In any English town circa the Middle Ages, along with a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker, one could reliably find another indispensable tradesperson—a cobbler, who back then made clients footwear to order, measuring their feet in units of barley-corns and poppy seeds. Edmonton-based company Poppy Barley may use more modern techniques, but when it comes to handcrafting high-quality custom footwear, it retains an old-fashioned approach.
Founded by sisters Justine and Kendall Barber in 2012, the web-retail shop allows customers to input measurements to an online profile, as well as specifying the width of their feet and circumference of their calves; the styles, materials, and colours they prefer; and any particular concerns they may have when it comes to buying footwear. “So many of our clients respond saying, ‘Oh my God, I used to never find boots that fit—I have big calves, I have narrow feet…’ ” says Kendall. Unsurprisingly, the company has grown from solely being a women’s custom footwear business to carrying shoes in stock and featuring a line for men.
The perfect fit is only one part of Poppy Barley’s core ethos. “The other thing we really believe in is great materials,” says Kendall. “[And] the only way we can make the quality of the product we do is by selling directly via e-commerce.” Poppy Barley manufactures its products ethically in Mexico; in the name of transparency, its website states that workers are paid five times the region’s minimum wage. The results are shoes you can wear with a clear conscience. “I think there is a movement happening: people are buying fewer things and are buying things they love. The Poppy Barley story is luxury for the people.”