It’s true that in life, to understand one another we must “walk a mile in their shoes”. It’s a lesson I’ve learned, continue to re-learn, and one I am constantly humbled by. As hard as it may often be, each time I seek to understand by putting myself in another’s shoes, I find myself in a more patient and empathetic state. It’s a privilege to have the wisdom middle age can provide: to take time, step back, and reflect on the experiences we bring to the table, and to better understand the experiences of those around us.
This week, I take it literally in talking work and life with Kendall Barber, Co-Founder of Poppy Barley, a Canadian footwear and leather goods company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She knows exactly what it’s like to walk a thousand miles in other’s shoes. From this, she truly created boots that were made for walking!
After a light bulb moment at a custom boot shop in Bali, Indonesia, Kendall and her sister Justine launched Poppy Barley in 2012. Travelling from their home in Edmonton to the city of León, Mexico, they went in search of a leather shoe factory that prioritized people; one that could offer flexibility in sizing and inventory through small-batch manufacturing, that also embodied true and spirited culture. The short story is: they found it, and since then Poppy Barley has expanded into men’s footwear, handbags, and leather goods.
For Kendall, Poppy Barley is a platform to do and create incredible things. She describes a love for designing products that people love; watching talented people grow into leaders, and expanding their commitment to ethical manufacturing in Mexico. Poppy Barley means a true love for building something that matters.
This week, I learned more (other than just loving their boots!) about the Poppy Barley story, the must-have styles for the season, and the truly Canadiana roots with which Kendall (and Justine) brought the brand to life.
What was the single most important thing in starting Poppy Barley, and why? Trusting ourselves and trusting other people. Starting Poppy Barley, we openly shared our vision for the company; we attracted people who believed in the vision. After on-boarding those people, we simply had to let amazing people be amazing. So many brilliant minds working together created a way better company than if Justine and I had simply acted as a duo.
What’s your favourite memory in building Poppy Barley? Standing in our factories in Mexico, watching our shoes being made. It’s amazing to create a physical product, and to be able to witness the impact of a business across borders.
What’s your favourite thing to do on weekends? Weekdays are hectic; weekends are for recharging. My favourite activity is a toss-up between a long run with friends, or hosting a casual dinner party at my house.
Your favourite way to celebrate with girlfriends? Brunch with lots of coffee and champagne. As many of my girlfriends are entrepreneurs, mothers, and athletes, I find brunch fits the best into our schedules – and it can either last almost all day, or simply an hour.
What are the trends for fall boots and shoes this year? Over-the-knee boots are still a big trend. They elongate the leg and practically add coverage to skirts and dresses when the weather chills. Our over-the-knee boot works beautifully for many women, because we customize the calf width and boot height for each woman. At Poppy Barley, our approach to tall boots is classic, versatile, and fit. Tall boots are an investment; you should love the style beyond one season. For ankle boots, we love block heels, all-day comfort, and colourful neutrals – pops of burgundy, olive, leopard, navy blue, and warm browns. Trends for shoes include loafers, slides, and we’re still loving the mule. Our mule in navy nubuck or leopard are also on-trend and easy: just slip-on and go. These styles transition nicely from fall to winter (until the first heavy snowfall, of course!).
Which boot or shoe do you recommend for the modern professional woman, that can take her from daytime business wear to dinner in the evening? Releasing this November, we’ve designed the most perfect ankle boot for the professional woman. It has a 2.5” heel with sleek lines and clean hardware – this allows a professional, stylish look during the day while also lending structure and height for the evening. For shoes, our Viva Pump is a heel like no other. It a high-pump with memory-foam insoles making the high heel so wearable.
If you had to pick just one boot and one shoe, what style should every woman have? For boots, I love the Heeled Chelsea Ankle Boot; it does my whole life from casual weekends to stylish work meetings. For shoes, I’m partial to the Soft Oxford – it’s more casual but soooo comfortable. It’s a well-loved best seller for good reason.
What are you proudest of when you think of Poppy Barley? The people and the journey. There isn’t a roadmap to create a company. You try. You fail. You re-invent, re-think. Try again. It’s exhausting and rewarding. And, I love that everyone that works at Poppy Barley embraces this process. We don’t strive for perfection, we strive for progress, integrity and transparency. Being comfortable with the unknown leads to creativity, growth and ultimately a company I’m really proud to be building.
Through her story and her passion for quality products and a people-centric approach, Kendall focuses on allowing the energy, talents, and passion of others come to life. How fitting considering she and Justine build footwear to accommodate the needs, shape, and fashion preference of women as their most unique selves – through individual and versatile designs.
While Poppy Barley’s boot and shoe styles are stunning, (I can not wait to experience the new ankle boot when released later this month!), there is much to be gained from their story. Authenticity, timeless fashion, a true culture of people and talent, and sustainable business practice is admirable as it is respective of all people and places. Kendall and Justine have taken time to let others shine, and to build their company from an idea to a burgeoning business with the utmost respect for others.
So walk a mile in their shoes – those proverbial shoes of others in your life, from friends and family, to colleagues and collaborators. Why? Because you can, and because everyone deserves to let their story and talents shine – no matter who gets the credit.
Interested? The best way to stay informed of new product launches is to follow Poppy Barley on Instagram.
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