Edmonton-Based Brand ‘Poppy Barley’ Expands into Vancouver with 1st Store [Interview/Photos]

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Edmonton-based leather footwear and accessories company Poppy Barley has expanded into the Vancouver market with the opening of a store in Kitsilano.

It’s the brand’s third store in Canada after launching in Edmonton in 2017 at Southgate Centre and in 2019 at CF Market Mall in Calgary. The brand started in 2012 as an e-commerce business.

And the retailer, founded by sisters Justine and Kendall Barber, has plans to open next in Toronto followed by Ottawa.

Poppy Barley Vancouver West 4th (Image: Elina Kustlyvy)

The new Vancouver store is located at 2144 W 4th Ave.

“For us it’s a small store. It’s 1,200 square feet,” said Justine Barber. “We really thought it was the perfect location with great co-tenancies. So we went a little bit smaller. It’s ideal for our footprint.

“We really think it’s the best street in Vancouver for brand discovery. Cool new brands and it has a great mix of some very well-known established brands like lululemon and some really cool up and coming startups. It’s just a great shopping street.

“Compared to our other stores, we re-designed it. So because it’s been four years since we designed a retail location and since then we’ve updated elements of our brand aesthetic it has a mix of what we incorporated into our previous stores with our Poppy Barley blue and navy colours but it has a lot more warm, natural materials and wood than we’ve previously used.”

The Edmonton and Calgary stores are about 2,200 square feet.

“We think for us an ideal store is like 1,600 square feet,” she said. 

Barber said the retailer always takes a look at a lot of data before entering a market. That comes from e-commerce revenue as well as a pop-up strategy where it will open for a few days in different cities.

“What we’ve seen before is once we get to a certain size within a city, growing a store opens our gross market share by 300 to 400 per cent. So we just got to the point in Vancouver between our e-commerce revenue and our pop-up revenue we knew that Vancouver was ready for a store,” said Barber. “And we started looking for the right real estate.

“It was hard. We narrowed down pretty quickly that we wanted to be on West 4th and then it’s a very popular street right now with very little for lease. We actually offered on a property that wasn’t on the market – that was softly available.”

Poppy Barley Vancouver West 4th (Image: Elina Kustlyvy)

Barber said the retailer plans to open a location in Toronto in 2024 followed by one in Ottawa.

What is it about the brand that resonates with consumers?

“I think it’s partly that we have a very remarkable product,” said Barber. “And as a product-based company, product is the most important thing.

“We also focus a lot on customer service and building customer loyalty

Poppy Barley is a female-founded, Canadian shoe and accessories brand from Edmonton, Alberta that stands for a new kind of luxury – fair prices on sustainably-made products you wear on repeat. As a certified B Corporation, Poppy Barley is rethinking the fashion industry to make it better for the planet, one sustainably-made shoe and accessory at a 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.”

Poppy Barley Vancouver West 4th (Image: Elina Kustlyvy)

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. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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