Edmonton-Based Footwear Brand ‘Poppy Barley’ Launching Store Expansion in Vancouver and Toronto [Interviews]


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Edmonton-based leather footwear and accessories company Poppy Barley is poised to grow from its Alberta roots and expand to other parts of the country.

And the retailer, spearheaded by founders and sisters Kendall and Justine Barber, has set its sights on first opening locations in Toronto and Vancouver.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we’ve had a very strong year for sales growth and our two fastest growing markets are BC and Ontario,” Justine Barber told Retail Insider. “So we’re looking at actually adding stores into Vancouver and Toronto.”

Image: Poppy Barley at Southgate Centre

She said the retailer is looking to expand to Vancouver first for Spring 2023 and then Toronto for Fall 2023.

“I’m thinking we definitely design for an urban consumer who is on their feet a lot, who wants stylish but comfortable and walkable shoes. So I think our design aesthetic fits really well within those cities and then I think our values as a Canadian brand focused on sustainable materials and ethical production resonates as well.”

Barber said the United States is always a ‘big fish’ to pursue and the retailer has experienced about 200 per cent year-over-year growth for US sales.

“So I think after we enter the major Canadian cities we’re definitely looking at the US,” she said. 


Jeri Brodie, Broker of Record, Senior Vice-President, of Aurora Realty Consultants, which is helping the brand expand, said the retailer is looking for between 1,800 and 2,000 square feet in an urban retail node with mid-to-upper household income in surrounding residential, synergy with other fashion retailers, consistent walk-by traffic, ease of access by car and public transit and availability of nearby parking. 

The first Poppy Barley physical store opened in August 2017 in the Southgate Centre in Edmonton. Prior to that, the retailer had a showroom within its office. Then it opened its second location in the Spring 2019 at CF Market Mall in Calgary.

The company also has Warehouse space in Edmonton which is a local pick up location only.

Poppy Barley will operate pop-ups later this month in both Ottawa and Vancouver.

Poppy Barley 2022 Pop-up Schedule

Brodie described Poppy Barley as a certified B Corp business which fully embraces its motto of  “luxury for the people and the planet.”

She said space is surprisingly tight in Toronto right now for good retail streetfront nodes. The retailer is looking for space in enclosed malls, high traffic retail streets and mixed-use centres.

“The two sisters co-founded the company and they are very community oriented. They both live and started the company in Edmonton. Alberta is their home stomping grounds. However, they have for many, many years now done these pop-up shops right across the country,” said Brodie. “And they would run anywhere from two to five days and in a lot of smaller centres – Victoria, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Ottawa, lots of them in Toronto.

“And mostly in response to their e-commerce sales. Before COVID and right after we had done Market (Mall), they wanted to kind of settle there for about a year or so and then COVID hit. So their expansion to open a flagship store in Toronto got delayed due to COVID.

“Thankfully they’ve managed to survive through that and are now back in expansion mode with Toronto being a pretty important centre for them just based on the success of their pop-up stores here as well as their online sales.”

Brodie said the retailer is not the kind of brand that’s going to have 10 stores in a city like Toronto but there’s probably room for up to four over the next five years.

“I think when we open the first store we’ll be able to get more information in terms of where people are coming from and that will help dictate future stores. Certainly for now we’re looking at one store in Toronto and we’ll see where it goes from there, understanding that the size of the market will probably warrant some additional stores over time.”

The retailer’s name has deep meaning. Poppy seeds and barley corns were the original unit of measurement in shoemaking.

“The idea for Poppy Barley started when my sister was in Bali and went into a shoe store, tried on a pair of boots and she couldn’t quite fit them up over her calves and the guy took out a measuring tape and said let me measure your legs and I’ll just make the shoes to fit you,” said Kendall Barber, in a previous story with Retail Insider.

“So Justine just kind of thought why don’t we all make shoes that way. It makes sense that we can combine the craftsmanship of shoemaking with some technology to be able to make better fitting shoes for everyone. So that’s what started Poppy Barley. She came back to Canada. She enrolled me. Got me on board with her and the two of us set out together to create Poppy Barley.”

Image: Poppy Barley at Southgate Centre

The retailer started as an e-commerce company.

“Very early on customers started asking us to see the products. We started by setting up a little table on Thursday afternoons where people could come and see the boots and the shoes. That eventually led to having a showroom and then from there we did our first store,” added Kendall Barber.

“Poppy Barley fills a unique gap in the Canadian retail landscape. The footwear market is crowded with cheaply-made, uncomfortable shoes or logo-heavy, preposterously-priced brand name footwear. Poppy Barley creates high quality shoes at a mid-market price point. We’re committed to invest in materials not markups. We’re not willing to compromise comfort or design or function or social responsibility. We’re the future of footwear.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.


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