Poppy Barley comes back to Vancouver

The Edmonton made-to-measure shoemaker is back in town to launch its new collection. But when will it set up shop here permanently?  

April 25, 2016

By Max Fawcett / Photo: Nicole Ashley

On Thursday, Western Canada’s favourite bespoke shoe company is setting up shop at the Nicole Bridger Flagship store in Gastown to kick off its Spring/Summer 2016 collection. Poppy Barley, which was founded by sisters Justine and Kendall Barber in Edmonton in 2012 in large part because they were frustrated with the selection of footwear that was available, has grown to become an online retail powerhouse in the world of women’s footwear. It’s getting there when it comes to men, too, as it’s launched a number of styles recently including the “Vancouver Chukka,” the “Toronto Brogue,” and the “Calgary Wingtip.” From Thursday through Sunday, local shoppers will have the chance to get an early look at the 20 new women’s styles and three new men’s looks that will be unveiled to everyone else online next week.

That decision to launch the new collection in Vancouver is a reflection of just how popular they’ve become here, according to Kendall Barber. “Vancouver is our fastest growing market right now,” she says. “We’re obviously more established in Edmonton, and Calgary kind of caught on next. But in Vancouver, we used to go about once a year for pop-ups, and this will be the fourth pop-up in 12 months.” Their decision to partner with Nicole Bridger, meanwhile, speaks to their mutual love of well-made things. “We love the Gastown location, and I think we also share a lot of the same brand values as Nicole: the aesthetics of our products, the craftsmanship, and really asking the questions about how things are made and who’s making the products.”

Their selection of women’s styles dwarfs their collection of shoes for men, but Barber says that’s less a deliberate choice they’ve made than a byproduct of the fact that the women’s line came first. While they’ve been making women’s shoes for the better part of four years, they’re only 16 months into their men’s line. “We just know our women’s customer so much more, and so we can play a lot more. I think we’re just starting to push that way on the men’s side.” But if there’s a playful men’s shoe in their roster, it has to be the Vancouver Chukka, one that nods to both our city’s more laid back approach and the colour of our sea and skies (a deep blue leather is only available in the Vancouver Chukka). “We chose that one for Vancouver because it’s not that serious of a shoe—and so it’s a little bit more playful, but it has a lot of history behind it. And while it can be paired with a suit, it goes equally well with jeans or a more casual look.”

The Vancouver Chukka in navy
The Vancouver Chukka in navy

For now, though, it’s the women who still get to choose from the most interesting (and adventurous) options, and the new season is no exception in this regard. And while Barber obviously has her run of the shop (it’s her shop, after all), her favourite addition to the family are the heeled mules for women.  “They’re playful, they’re easy, they’re comfortable—they have a bit of a heel, and then we did them in really fun colours like Stardust Silver and Leopard.” Those new colours are a great addition, she says, for people who tend to spend most of their time in one part of the colour wheel. “It’s a shoe that says a lot, and I’m a pretty pared-down dresser—black every day—so anything that can be on my feet and be the star of my outfit I’m into.”

In addition to their growing online sales, Poppy Barley is also exploring the addition of bricks-and-mortal retail stores. They’ve already opened one up in Edmonton, and Barber says that they’re looking hard at where else they’d want to deploy the concept (a small space where people could look at product and get measured without actually buying the product, like the Guideshops that American menswear retailer Bonobos has rolled out across the United States). And how does Barber think our chances look of being next on that list? “I think Vancouver is a very good candidate.”

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