At the year-end, we tally up our Poppy Barley orders to identify the most popular shoe styles, leather colours and sizes. For the men, a surprising number of you are seeking smaller shoe sizes, from sizes 5 to 7, which tells us that it’s hard to come by off-the-rack (and that you seek comfort, style, quality and fit, all rolled into one). So, what’s the story? When Chris Hamill, a creative director and avid traveller, posted this #PoppyBarleySquad photo and caption on Instagram, we knew he’d be the perfect person to tell it.
“Have you tried the children’s shoe department?”
“Perhaps we could find something like this in a ladies size?”
Yes those questions are real and I’ve had them directed to me more than once. They don’t make for an encouraging shoe shopping experience. At 5’7” and 130 pounds, I’m used to rummaging through stacks of shirts to find that one elusive 14.5” size or snapping up the size Small because it will never be there at sale time. But if your feet don’t meet the typical minimum store threshold size 8… well there’s not much point in even bothering to look.
I’m no clothes horse, and I consider myself a conservative dresser, but I do value the importance of dressing well. I don’t spend a lot, but shop for value and classic looks and then wear things until they wear out (or when even I realize they are hopelessly out of style). My small collection of dress shoes consist of European and U.S. Outlet Mall purchases in size 7. Three pairs that still get regular wear are up to 15 years old (kept in good order by the skilled hands of ageless Art at West End Shoe Repair). Before Poppy Barley Men, my newest shoes were size 8 that I’ve “made work” with inserts.
Given the almost certain frustration, I’ve never shoe shopped unless I absolutely needed to – until Poppy Barley Men that is. It must have been around Poppy Barley’s second anniversary when the Edmonton Journal ran a story on the company, mentioning the pending launch of a men’s line. While the prospect of affordable made-to-order shoes caught my attention, I was just as drawn by the chance to support local, independent entrepreneurs. The vibe and ethic of the company seemed to match the values that my wife and I try to follow in our shopping.
Before the men’s line launched I signed up to be an “Insider”, and as soon as Poppy Barley Men went live I booked a fitting at Poppy Barley’s startup space in the Mercer Building. The personal attention I received at the fitting is one of those little luxuries that I enjoy and the answers to my questions about supply chain, factory conditions and sustainability strengthened my enthusiasm for the company. The biggest surprise? Measuring as a 6.5! I worried the shoes would be too small, and being a slow-to-warm, conservative kind of guy I was wary about the tan calf colour. Any doubts melted away when my shoes arrived early in 2015 and I slipped them on. The fit? Perfect! The colour? I discovered it looked great with navy, grey, brown, camel – anything! The style? Equally great with a slim suit, chinos or jeans. The result? My new go-to shoes for almost any occasion – including my frequent road trips.
My work takes me all over Canada – sometimes for a quick one-day meeting, at other times for a week or two of working long days on a major proposal presentation. There is always lots of walking and time on my feet wherever I am. I never check a bag and I always take running gear, so I have room for two pairs of shoes only – runners in my carry on bag and Poppy Barley’s Toronto Brogues on my feet. They take me from morning to night, a flight to pavement pounding, office to dinner out, all in absolute comfort and style. Over the past ten months, they’ve been from Victoria to St. John’s, Chicoutimi to Lower Manhattan and from Odessa, Ukraine to Paris, France.
They still look as good as new, and that tan calf colour that is was so uncertain about? I couldn’t help but notice in Paris how on trend it is, and it goes with everthing! No more googling “can I wear brown shoes with navy or grey”!
*Special thanks to (and shot on location at) the Metterra Hotel!