The word on everyone’s lips these days seems to be bespoke. Consumers are beginning to demand more and more customization from the brands they engage with as they realize that one size (or sizes) does not truly fit all. As a result, a number of online boutiques have popped up proving to men and women everywhere that getting custom made clothes does not have to mean taking out a second mortgage on your home. By cutting out the middle men and selling directly to consumers, brands are giving customers a greater shopping experience by tailoring product at their exact measurements.
Nowhere does made to measure make more sense than with shoes, particularly boots– because honestly, we all have a pair or two or six. With over 60% of women finding it difficult to find properly fitting shoes, Kendell Barber and Justine Barber recognized a gap in the market and launched Poppy Barley, an online made to measure shoe service for women based out of Canada.
The process is simple. Shoppers go onto the Poppy Barley website select and personalize their favorite shoe’s material, color, hardware, and sole type, add foot and calf measurements, and finally, have the completely unique shoes shipped directly to their doorsteps. With the price points for boots at just under $500 and flats under $200, it’ a wonder why we haven’t all demanded made to measure shoes before.
To find out more we chatted with CEO and founder Kendell Barber.
TWF: What inspired you to start Poppy Barely?
KB: In January 2012, my sister (and co-founder) was vacationing in Bali where she purchased a pair of made to measure boots to fit her high arches and slightly wide feet. The idea of bespoke boots hadn’t even occurred to Justine as an option or a possible solution for her fit issues. In North America, custom footwear became largely unavailable when the small-town local shoe craftsman closed up shop and mass production moved in. We were inspired to re-create the one-of-a-kind shoe shopping experience to anyone with access to a measuring tape and the internet.
Poppy Barley started with the biggest pain point for women: boots. Over 60% of women struggle to find boots that fit. Women have wide calves, narrow feet, long legs, short legs, high arches, different sized feet – and so many other “fit issues”. Given most footwear is manufactured considering only one measurement – foot length – it’s not surprising this one-size fits all approach does not work.
The introduction of great fitting boots gave rise to a customer demand for made to measure flats. Our flats collection just launched in June 2013.
TWF: Is it difficult tackling the preconceived notion that custom made shoes are incredibly expensive?
KB: Most people are not aware that custom made shoes are an option, and are unfamiliar with how amazing made to measure shoes feel on your feet. For years, we simply shopped until we found a pair of shoes that sort of worked often conceding style, color and fit. The custom made experience is about not compromising – a notion that resonates with women. The Poppy Barley model makes the luxury of made to measure shoes attainable for the first time.
TWF: How is your company able to drive the prices down to provide this very tailored service?
KB: By selling exclusively at poppybarley.com, we avoid all the costs of traditional retail allowing more women to enjoy the attainable luxury of made to measure boots. Our focus is on selling beautifully constructed boots and shoes of the highest quality at a price that resonates with customers.
TWF: What are three key differentiators of Poppy Barely from other customized-based fashion tech companies?
KB: The Promise of Fit: We are solving two problems – first, by offering made to measure our shoes and boots fit each customer perfectly. Secondly, because we craft each pair of made to measure shoes individually, we offer custom design, empowering our customers to create their perfect style of shoes.
Curated Collections: When it comes to design options, the sky is not the limit. Each season we curate collections by selecting a limited palette of colors and design options. Limiting choices is core to our belief in style, craftsmanship and quality, and resonates throughout our company, influencing our website build, photography and product display.
Transparency: We believe in manufacturing transparency. At poppybarley.com, we share full information to customers about our suppliers, our studio and the talented cordwainers who make our shoes.
TWF: What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of launching a startup?
KB: The most rewarding is “the doing” and how close you are to everything from your customers, your team, the problems, the fun and the successes. By being so deeply entrenched, it’s easy to come up with ideas and there are no barriers to making them happen.
The challenges are the typical ones – stress, solitude and instability. I always imagine the successes will feel way better and more significant than they ever do. You work so hard, get something done, and instead of celebrating, you’re immediately looking for ways to improve. I think being overly critical and always thinking about the next thing is in the DNA of most entrepreneurs. Not taking time to recognize successes really compounds the challenges and stresses. We are insanely thankful to work with people who know how to laugh, keep things in perspective and celebrate.
TWF: Are there any startups you’ve looked to for inspiration that have helped your business flourish?
KB: I love Cuyana’s notion that women should own fewer items and buy with intention. The simplicity and honesty of Everlane is inspiring. When it comes to made to measure, I have a lot of respect for made to measure pioneer, Indochino, who first challenged people to seek bespoke clothes at a reasonable price point.
TWF: What can we expect from Poppy Barely in the months to come?
KB: This is just the beginning of a new standard for the footwear industry. Beyond launching new collections (heeled boots, ankle boots, and more flats), we’ll continue to perfect our measurement system, integrate new technologies and deliver a memorable, one-of-a-kind custom shopping experience.//
To keep up with the Poppy Barley team, you can follow them here.
Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables. Christi Reid is an Editorial intern for TWF.
Images via Poppy Barley