The Right Fit: BCom grad Kendall Barber finds startup success with Poppy Barley, a made-to-measure boot design company
Think of a great idea, turn it into a business and spend your days passionately serving that idea—it’s a task on any entrepreneur’s bucket list. Kendall Barber’s (BCom ’05) boot design company, Poppy Barley (poppybarley.com), is undoubtedly a product of this vision. However, it is only after recounting the story of how she came to design handcrafted footwear, that this wide-eyed fashionista suddenly morphs into a seasoned executive, reminding us of the difference between those who simply draft bucket lists, and others who stomp on said bucket to hoist their way to the top. Kendall Barber is in the latter category.
The light bulb moment came shortly after Kendall’s younger sister Justine Barber travelled to Bali last February. When a local shoe store associate casually asked if she wanted to be measured for a custom pair of boots when in-store sizes didn’t fit, she was in awe. Justine returned to Alberta and shared her experience with Kendall, and they began to investigate whether custom-made footwear was something Canadian shoppers might appreciate.
After combing through survey results and focus group data, Kendall and Justine found that over 60 per cent of women struggle to find boots that fit properly. They also learned that a large number of shoe manufacturers that supply the U.S. are based in León, Mexico. The sisters decided it was time for some first-hand research. “We ultimately made the decision to buy plane tickets, go there and figure it out,” says Kendall. “We were two girls from Canada with an idea, looking for a partner who believed in us enough to commit to making some samples.”
Kendall and Justine eventually formed a relationship with a manufacturer willing to work with their requirements, such as using an eco-friendly tannery and monitoring where the materials came from. Environmental concerns have always been important to the sisters, as has maintaining a close connection with suppliers and employees in León. This is what pushes them to make frequent trips south, instead of relying only on email and Skype.
Named after poppy seeds and barleycorns, the original elements used to make made-to-measure footwear, Poppy Barley launched in November 2012. With prices starting from $450, the company strives to supply handmade boots that fit perfectly and are built to last, while providing exceptional customer service.
Poppy Barley has been open for less than a year and Kendall says the experience has been a whirlwind. That said, she is reluctant to take credit for the company’s initial success. “I think that sometimes the founders of companies get too much credit. I feel like there have been so many people that have made Poppy Barley what it is today.”
Some of Kendall’s biggest supporters have been fellow UVic business alumni she has kept in touch with since graduating. Many of these colleagues have been valuable resources while getting Poppy Barley off the ground. Kendall is glad to have chosen the UVic program—smaller class sizes allowed her to form these lasting relationships with her classmates. “I went to school with some amazing people who have gone on to be incredibly successful entrepreneurs,” she says.
Judging from the enthusiasm of Poppy Barley fans, avid followers on social media platforms and the decision to expand the product line in the upcoming months, it is safe to say that Kendall can now count herself as a successful entrepreneur—one who will keep checking off items on her bucket list.
This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Business Class Magazine, a publication of the Gustavson School of Business
By Shirley Chen
A friend of mine once jokingly said that the most successful place to produce prominent business leaders is in a garage. And, surprisingly, the founders of some of the most successful businesses, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Google did start their initial operations in their own garages.
Similar to those success stories, the co-founders of DrawSplash, Gary Rodrigues and Hyunbin Lee, two ambitious business students, started their company as a small scale T-shirt printing operation in their garages in London, Ontario. Within three years, they quickly learned about the entire distribution network and challenged the inefficiencies in the industry. They have now transformed their original operation into a one-stop solution to schools’ merchandising needs, offering a much simpler and more user friendly ordering system to their customers.
When the operation first started in 2009, Gary and Hyunbin had very little help, so the two of them were in charge of every aspect of the operation - ranging from acquiring sales contracts to printing T-shirts. Leveraging their social network on campus, the two best friends first secured orders from student clubs; then they were able to gain orders from student councils and eventually became the supplier for Western University’s Orientation Week.
Since the transition from a small printing company to the current version of DrawSplash, the tasks of everyday work have changed for the two founders. As the company grew, so did the need for more high-level coordination and leadership. Now on a typical workday, Gary and Hyunbin are likely to be booking meetings and talking to team members, and occasionally traveling to various cities for sales meetings.
When asked to reflect upon the best part of his job, Gary replied that it’s “[the] freedom and the satisfaction from being responsible for your own success” and knowing that “[you are in] total control over your future”. Indeed, unlike many office jobs students get after graduation, where much time could be spent idling, the job of an entrepreneur requires the two founders to be highly focused. They spend every minute of their working hours trying to be efficient and productive in order to reach their goals.
Although experience is not necessarily required to be an entrepreneur, Gary recommended starting early. By starting while still in school, you will have something to fall back on if your business tanks. Additionally, starting early will give you the ability to learn about the industry before fully committing yourself to it. One of the perks of being a student entrepreneur is that you could talk directly to your competitors and find out what they are doing without being perceived as a threat or as a serious competition.
Finally, some direct advice given by Gary: “Make sure you are doing what you want to be doing. Think about the job you are in and see if you would do it for less pay. If you’re doing it only for the paycheque, it’s not going to be worth it.”
By Allison Whalen
My ESL editing career came to life by accident, inextricably linked to the recession, coconuts and rock ‘n’ roll music. I’d obtained an MA from Carleton U and found that the cozy, bookshelved world of the grad student was nothing like real life, otherwise known as Ottawa in an economic recession.
What did they mean, the government wasn’t really hiring? Students of the double-cohort demographic were finally filtering out of the school system and into a local job market that couldn’t accommodate them. And yes, I’d looked on http://www.charityvillage.com; we all had, evidently. It seemed like half the city was out of work.
Fortunately, my husband was working as an ESL teacher-trainer with United TESOL at the time, and had the opportunity to pilot a teacher’s training program in Costa Rica. Did I mention it was winter? I happily ditched my resume obsessing for this “once-in-a-lifetime,” seasonal opportunity. We packed our swimsuits and hoped for the best.
I taught English in small communities for a local eco-tourism organization, Peninsula Papagayo, where I was eventually hired to edit brochures, newsletters, press releases and web material. There wasn’t much competition for editing work there — I had the best English skills in town. And oh, the beaches and the coconuts! (For more on my ESL teacher experience in Costa Rica:http://www.quarterlives.com/a-quarterlifer-abroad-part-3-a-costa-rica-love-story/)
When we returned to Ottawa and got over the reverse-culture-shock, the job market hadn’t changed much. I was back where I’d started. It was when I was sniffing out editing work at Carleton that I got hired as an editorial assistant for submissions to The Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. This job married two of my great loves: modern music and the written word, but the real emphasis should have been on the word World. In short, my job was to tidy up each article while maintaining the foreign author’s voice. I learned about everything from German Krautrock to Greek bouzoukis in many variations of ESL English. Common error patterns in sentence structure began to reveal themselves, and I learned to coax a unique voice out of a mess of misused words. Working on my own time at a location of my choosing proved to be wonderfully addictive, too.
When I moved to the health administration sector, I began to take on independent clients as a second job, editing graduate theses in an ESL context. The patience, time and methods required to carve messages out of miscommunications were challenging, but because I had already gained some unique skills in the area, it seemed logical to continue.
More recently as a full-time freelancer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many ESL writers from Asia and the Middle East. Meeting with Chinese and Arabic speakers has helped me understand a given culture that influences the writer, right down to the order in which they present their ideas. Having a sense for my client’s background has definitely made my work easier, and sometimes bonuses come in the form of exotic food! (I actually have sugar dates all the way from Al Qassim, Saudi Arabia, in my fridge right now. You’re not getting those from a client in Ottawa!)
Compared with other languages, English is pretty wordy and complex, so to understand where a writer is coming from (literally!) is crucial to understanding their meaning. Getting lost in specific words tends to be beside the point and can add extra hours to a difficult project. It’s often necessary to read an entire sentence, or paragraph, to distinguish between important and useless or misused words.
See? ESL editors do exist! I may have had unconventional experience, but it led to a lucrative and interesting position. What started with a frustrated response to an economic recession turned into a career, and I’m pretty excited to see where it will take me next.