Editor’s Note: This story was first published on June 23, and was updated August 3 when the store opened. Scroll down to see a gallery of the new store.
“I think it is both very exciting and very scary,” Justine Barber said, who co-founded the company with her sister Kendall in 2012 with the help of Startup Edmonton.
The company initially offered custom-made women’s boots. It later expanded to flats, ankle boots and leather bags, and in 2015 began making men’s footwear.
The company is going in the opposite direction of some retailers, who are moving away from physical stores in favour of online-only. Barber admits opening a retail outlet wasn’t part of the original plan.
“When we launched, we really saw ourselves as being e-commerce, but very quickly we realized that people actually wanted to shop in person.”
She said in-person sales started in their small office at Startup Edmonton, where twice a week people would come in for measuring appointments and to buy shoes. Their business flourished and two years ago, Poppy Barley opened a part showroom, part office location on Whyte Avenue.
Expanding to Southgate is a big step for the company, which received national exposure earlier this year when Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau wore a pair of Poppy Barley shoes when he tabled the federal government’s budget.
The 1,000 square foot Southgate store, found in the old Sephora location, includes in-stock women’s sizes, men’s footwear, leather accessories, a made-to-order measurement lounge, as well as information about their manufacturing process.
On one wall is a touchable gallery of leather samples, while another wall outlines the company’s sustainable goals.
“All of our product is made in Mexico and we really have a deep connection and a love with Mexico, so what we wanted to do with the store was really to bring in some Mexican-inspired decor and really make it not just a shoe store which is stuffed full of shoes, but more of an experience.
“So that you’re not just buying shoes, but you’re learning about leather, you’re learning about custom shoe making, your seeing pictures of our artisans who are making the shoes and really providing a bigger connection.”
The Barber sisters admit the fashion industry is environmentally unfriendly, and said their goal is to operate the company as ethically as possible.
The company had 15 employees and added 12 more positions for the Southgate store – nearly doubling their headcount.
“I think a lot of customers are more comfortable buying shoes in person which is why we are opening in Southgate, which is why we do retail pop-ups. Once we have your size on file most customers will repeat online, so that makes it easier.”
The company looked around Edmonton before choosing the southside mall, located just off Whitemud Drive and 111 Street.
“We chose Southgate Mall for our first Poppy Barley flagship location because we thought it was already our guests’ favourite shopping destination,” Barber said, adding it is convenient for people who live in the south, centrally and the west end. The company also liked the feel and co-tenancy of the mall.
“At first we thought we’d end up on Whyte Ave or 124th (street), but decided a mall is a better year-round destination in Edmonton.”
The Southgate store opened August 3.
WATCH: Poppy Barley co-founder Kendall Barber and “Style at Home” editor Erin McLaughlin explain why the Edmonton shoe company is bucking the retail trend when it comes to opening its first store.