Entrepreneurs Justine and Kendall Barber are the stylish sisters behind the beautifully crafted Edmonton-based footwear company Poppy Barley. Using minimal start up costs, the savvy duo came up with the idea of custom made shoes and boots at affordable prices after having a difficult time finding shoes to fit their athletic calves and feet. In just three years they have grown the company from the two of them to an eight person strong team. Along the way there have been some bumps in the road, but the company is going strong and their fair-profit business in partnership with their factory in Léon, Mexico is a model of thoughtful and ethical manufacturing
Justine and Kendall share with us their biggest lesson, best piece of advice and why Edmonton is pretty fabulous.
Starting a made-to-order boot company seams like a giant leap but you both did it and with only $10,000 in start-up costs. What was the most difficult part of starting Poppy Barley?
Justine: It was more than $10,000 – it was actually closer to $40k, and then we also didn’t take a salary for the first 18 months. We both cashed in some savings, took out line of credits (while we had jobs to secure them!), used some credit card room, and I also used some of my wedding money to launch the company. (I got engaged and came up with the idea of Poppy Barley in the same week.) I don’t recommend doing this, but it is what we did.
In starting Poppy Barley, particularly after we had quit our jobs to do so, I remember some moments of despair when it seemed like it wasn’t going to, and would never, come together. This happened when we were struggling as two non-technical people to build our first landing page and website, and receiving a series of boot samples that were nowhere near ready to launch from our studio. At those times I thought, “Did I really quit my job for this?”
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Kendall: No amount of previous experience and success will help you navigate the hard parts. So don’t give that excuse to yourself. Instead, just show up everyday. Work hard and know that thousands of incremental improvements will move your business forward.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
Justine: Always getting better and getting back up after failures and setbacks.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Kendall: Our optimism lead us to create a big vision for Poppy Barley, but early on we failed to plan for worst-case scenarios and we did not do sufficient risk analysis. Now we do a lot more modeling of a variety of possibilities.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1) Are you willing to sacrifice your lifestyle? Starting a business means sacrificing financial security, peace of mind, and interests and hobbies – at least for a while! After a couple of years it gets less crazy, but will always be different than having an employer. (In both good and bad ways.)
2) Do you have a good idea that has a shot at success? Before jumping in take small steps to try and figure this out and do market research.
3) Who can be your co-founder / business partner? While not necessary, I think entrepreneurship is a hard and lonely journey – it helps tremendously to have someone to share it with.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Kendall: Let go of perfect; imperfect is where you have to start. Just put it out there and be vulnerable to feedback, opinions and mini failures. Everyday show up to make it better. You do that everyday and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Justine: I like to think exercise but it might be socializing – drinks with friends every night!
Kendall: Spend more time with my husband and dog – long walks with good conversation. And, I’d read more. I have so many books on my reading list.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Justine: Sadly I check the Poppy Barley dashboard app (our developer Daelan custom built this) for a sales and social media update.
Kendall: First, I check “WhatsApp” to confirm my friends haven’t cancelled on me for our run at 6am. Next, the weather app to ensure I dress appropriately for my run. Twenty minutes later, I’m out the door to meet my friends for a run.
Edmonton is not traditionally seen as the home of fashion companies. Do you think that’s an advantage or disadvantage?
Justine: I don’t think how Edmonton is seen really matters. For us being Canadian is an advantage for getting Canadian press and a disadvantage for getting US press. Also, because of our location, we are not really looped into the NYC – SF fashion scene, or Toronto-Montreal which is probably a disadvantage, but we are building our own community of fashion and lifestyle companies in an Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver triangle.
What are three things about Edmonton that people should know about.
Thank-you Justine and Kendall!