Poppy Barley brings the online made-to-measure business model to women’s boots

This Edmonton-based startup took inspiration from Indochino to create their own line of women's footwear

The business: Poppy Barley
Founders: Justine and Kendall Barber
Founded: February 2012
poppybarley.com

Over the past few years, custom suit- and shirt-makers have multiplied, from Indochino to Modern Tailor. Most focus on men, for the obvious reason that women’s tailoring tends to be more complicated. But sisters Justine and Kendall Barber have taken inspiration from the business model and applied it to a staple item in any woman’s wardrobe: boots. Their startup, Poppy Barley, creates custom-made boots based on a woman’s foot measurements.

The Story So Far …

Justine says the inspiration for Poppy Barley came to her on a trip to Bali earlier this year. She’d already decided she wanted to start her own business, but after getting a pair of custom-made boots while on vacation, she realized there was an opportunity to bring that business closer to home. When she got back to Edmonton, she told her sister Kendall about the idea, who signed on to act as advisor and helped out with marketing. After two months, though, Kendall decided to join the venture as a full partner, and by July both sisters were working full-time on launching their new business.

In May, Justine and Kendall headed down to Mexico to find a workshop where their boots could be made. “I always think that’s where it became not just an idea, but a business,” says Justine. After some searching, they found one in Léon, a city well-known for its leather and shoe industries. Justine says it was almost serendipitous. After several dead-ends, the 12-year-old daughter of their shoe broker suggested a workshop managed by the parents of a classmate. It turned out to be the perfect fit.

Since then, Poppy Barley has designed three styles of boots, nailed down their supply chain and ordering process, and gotten their website ready for launch next week. Their brand has also been making the rounds on Facebook, where more than 900 people are currently signed up for updates. Each pair of boots will sell for $450, plus a $15 shipping fee, which Justine says is considerably lower than what consumers would pay at a retail outlet for a similar product. “Because our business model is directly from us to the customer, we’re not going through the traditional markups that most boots have,” she says.

What’s Next

By next year, Justine hopes Poppy Barley will be producing 1,000 pairs of boots per month – she’s already planning a trip to Mexico in order to expand their space at the factory. They also want to start producing high heeled boots, which she says presents its own challenge, since they’ll need to manufacture heel forms. Eventually, those expansions will mean hiring more people (they’re already searching for a boot designer), but she’s not sure how many. “We really don’t know,” she says.

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About Alix Kemp

Alix Kemp is an assistant editor with Alberta Venture. Starting Small is her blog about Alberta's small businesses and startup communities. She can be reached at akemp@albertaventure.com.

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