Kendall Barber

Top 40 Under 40 2014

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 32

Job Title: Co-founder, Poppy Barley

Why She’s Top 40: She co-founded a company that provides ethically made, custom footwear that women actually want to wear.

Guilty Pleasure: “I like Bloom Cookie Co. and I love the Cookie Love cookies. Those are the two best ones. Cookies and red wine.”

Kendall Barber, along with her sister, Justine, founded the Edmonton custom-shoe business, Poppy Barley. It all started as the solution to a common problem; shoe shopping.

During a trip to Bali, Justine wanted a specific pair of shoes, but they didn’t fit. When the shop owner said he could take her measurements and make her a pair, Justine realized the appeal of making shoes outside of the assembly line.

Justine emailed Kendall, saying she wanted to start a business in Edmonton that could do the same.

In the two years since they started their made-to-measure shoe company, the business has grown 300 per cent. The company consists of seven employees in Edmonton (including the Barber sisters) and 20 in Len, Mexico. It is looking for a new space for its headquarters, since it has outgrown its spot in the Mercer Building.

“We also want to have a proper showroom, where customers can come and shop and interact with the product and with the team,” says Barber.

The company’s rapid growth – its focus quickly went from selling 100 pairs of boots to selling the next 1,000 – means it has to constantly ensure that its suppliers can meet the demand without sacrificing quality or the ethical manufacturing standards it has put in place.

“We do all of the buying of our components directly from the suppliers, so we’ve been in all of the factories that we buy from,” says Barber, adding that each batch is made-to-order, meaning there is no product waste. Employees in Mexico are paid 13 times the country’s minimum wage, and work 40-hour weeks.

Its unique approach to selling shoes means Poppy Barley doesn’t need to follow any set formula. “Having that ability to be really creative in product design and business design and process design and finding solutions is the part of what I do that I love the most,” says Barber.

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