How One Brand Is Bringing Bespoke Boots To The Masses

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You’ve been there before. You scan the racks, eyes settling on the perfect pair of boots. But, alas, they don’t fit your calves, or they’re too tight on your feet, or the ankles are baggy. Either way, on the rack they stay, and you’re left with a boot-shaped hole in your closet yet again.

There was a time when the wardrobe items people desired were custom-made for them — hats were crafted for specific circumferences, a made-to-measure dress fit like a glove. But, while the industry has changed and mass market is the norm, Poppy Barley is proving it doesn't have to be that way.

The made-to-measure footwear company is trying to revolutionize the business. Turned off by the shoddy quality of boots and shoes that kinda fit and kinda look like what you want, Poppy Barley, founded by sisters Kendall and Justine Barber, creates footwear that's literally fit to your feet — no measurement ignored, no quality overlooked. It seems like a real luxury to have an item timelessly tailored to you, especially in an otherwise quickly recycled, trend-based world. So, to better understand the concept of Poppy Barley that could change the way we shop, we spoke with community manager Caroline Gault. Read on to learn how one brand is setting the pace for the industry, straight ahead.

embPoppyBarley-Founders-Justine-Kendall-2Photo: Courtesy of Poppy Barley.


What inspired Kendall and Justine to create Poppy Barley?
"In January 2012, Justine was vacationing in Bali, where she purchased a pair of made-to-measure boots. She loved them because she had always struggled to find boots that fit due to her high arches and wider feet. Back in Canada, she started telling women about her boots and was surprised at how many responded with 'OMG, I can’t buy boots either because [fill in the blank]: narrow calves, bunions, large calves, wide feet, narrow feet, two [differently] sized feet, large feet, small feet, being tall, being petite, etc.' That’s when Justine conceived the idea of bringing the art of custom boots to anyone with access to a measuring tape and the Internet."

Where did the name come from?
"Our vision is for Poppy Barley to bring meticulous craftsmanship back for perfect-fitting footwear. We researched the origins of shoemaking and found that barleycorns were the original unit of measurement for footwear. In 1324, King Edward II decreed that three barleycorns would make the standard unit of measurement, known as an 'inch.' Shoemakers in England then discovered that the largest foot in England was 39 barleycorns, so that became size 13 and every subsequent smaller size was three barleycorns, or one inch. Poppy seeds were used as a smaller unit of measurement (four poppy seeds equals one barleycorn), hence our name, Poppy Barley. This is still the basis for the U.K. and U.S. shoe-sizing system."
poppy-barley-2Photo: Courtesy of Poppy Barley.
What made them choose to manufacture the boots in Mexico?
"When searching for a community of craftspeople making custom footwear, our top priorities were talented artisans, high-quality leather goods, ethical manufacturing practices, and fair prices to our customers. We searched globally for the right fit. We found it still mostly existed in the functional spheres (for horseback riders, cowboys, and polo players). While looking for a cluster of talent in shoemaking, one city kept coming up: the city of León, Mexico. We decided to risk up to $5,000 to make Poppy Barley a reality and hopped on a plane to Léon. After days of fruitless factory visits, we connected with Lupita, the owner of a custom-footwear studio. It marked the start of a strong partnership.

León has a long tradition of shoemaking since the 1600s but also embraces technology advances. The region is bursting with talented shoemakers from Mexico, Italy, and Argentina. León is one of the world’s most complete leather-manufacturing clusters (giving us a 36-kilometer supply chain). As business owners, it’s easy to travel to Mexico and spend time with our team there. Plus, our customers benefit from NAFTA, which means no duties or customs on purchases.

We are so passionate about consumers knowing the origins behind the products they purchase that we share everything from production practices to employee wages and factory conditions on our website as part of our Total Manufacturing Transparency."

Do you plan to offer any other boot/shoe styles in the near future?
"Yes! In addition to our custom pointed-toe ballet flats and our collection of flat boots, we are launching our first line of heeled boots this January and will be launching ankle boots and a rounded-toe contemporary ballet flat in the spring."

Are there any plans for future brick-and-mortar stores?
"Mortar stores and e-commerce are converging; both mediums are experimenting with new models to fuse the best of both worlds to create new shopping experiences for customers. At Poppy Barley, having a direct relationship with our customer is essential to us. Already we offer an in-person shopping experience in our hometown (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) and have toured with pop-up shops. In the future, there will be continued efforts to create in-person shopping experiences."

Do you have any measuring tips on how to get a perfect fit?
"Trust yourself! Women are generally brilliant when it comes to measuring themselves for Poppy Barley boots. Given that our legs and feet do tend to change size over the course of the day, we do recommend you measure yourself multiple times to confirm the right measurements. We also recommend that you measure yourself wearing the thickest pair of socks or jeans that you plan to wear with your boots, keeping in mind that leather does stretch over time. (Poppy Barley also offers a Fit Promise to make sure you love your handcrafted boots.)"

What is the largest/smallest calf size and shoe size you can make?
"Our flats and boots are available in shoe sizes five to 13. Our boots are available in calf widths from 12 to 20 inches (30 to 51 centimeters)."