“Our audience has known this is coming and they trust us to do it well.”
Starting the new year with a fresh take on sustainable design, Edmonton-based brand Poppy Barley released a trio of new items yesterday under the umbrella of PLNT – a name given to the offering because each piece is crafted with eco-friendly cactus leather.
“When Poppy Barley launched in 2012 we were really focused on ethical production, and in the past couple of years we’ve brought in a lens on sustainability; we wanted to start looking at our carbon footprint and the materials that we were using,” says the brand’s co-founder, Justine Barber (she conceived of the now certified B-Corp label with her sister, Kendall). “We started to set goals around those objectives.”
Since Poppy Barley works with manufacturing facilities in Brazil and Mexico, the pair was pleased to hear of an innovative new material that had come on the market, and could be found growing in proximity to where some of the brand’s production is done.
“Last February – before the end of travel – we went to Mexico on a material sourcing trip, and something we’d found a few months before arriving there was this new cactus leather,” Justine continues. “We were excited about [it] because we’ve always manufactured in Mexico, so we knew it would be such a great story and have a local traceability angle for us.”
After meeting with the creators of Desserto, the brand that makes the novel material derived from the Nopal cactus plant, Justine and Kendall felt confident they were on the right track to one day satisfy their ambitions around sustainable design.
“The other thing that got us really excited is that [this material] is a lot more supple and feels a lot closer to leather than some of the other plant-based materials we were sampling at the time,” Justine notes. “Looking at it, you can’t tell that it’s not leather,” Kendall adds. “So, we have to be very clear with people that it’s actually a plant-based material!”
The duo also had to ensure that the material, called Laguaro, would live up to the high expectations their audience has for their existing products, which range from footwear to large and small leather goods. “We wanted to make sure that we could work with it and that the durability was there,” Kendall says of the rigorous testing they did in the months leading up to this week’s launch of PLNT.
This is no small feat considering the many restrictions the COVID-19 crisis imposed on all businesses, but thanks to the location of where the cactus leather is produced – so close to the solar-powered, family-run factory where many Poppy Barley pieces are made – Kendall says that it was “[a] collaboration across our entire supply chain to bring [the collection] to life in the way we wanted to.”
Noticing that cactus leather lends well to being used in the design of more structured pieces, the initial wares from the PLNT line include the Multitasker Backpack, Convertible Belt Bag, and Card Holder. “We love the concept of a belt bag – it’s super of-the-moment,” Justine notes.
Poppy Barley will launch more pieces within the PLNT line later in the year, with a greater goal of bringing shoes into the fold at some point in 2022 (fingers crossed). “Moving into footwear is more challenging,” Justine says, pointing to the consideration of the components within a shoe’s design, and also its comfort factor.
“Our audience has known this is coming and they trust us to do it well,” Kendall says when asked about their confidence level in coming out with PLNT. “They know we’re not going to compromise.” And the consciousness of their effort extends to other elements of PLNT’s pieces, from the use of water-based glues to the bags being lined with a cotton that’s grown and milled in Mexico.
The Barber sisters say that with the launch of PLNT – coupled with other hopeful news from Canadian brands like Folds, which recently launched an innovative new line of eco-friendly medical scrubs – that our country is poised to become a leader in the fashion industry when it comes to pushing the dial and making progress. “I hope Canada will become like a Nordic country, with its own identity and a great reputation in the fashion world, punching above its weight,” says Justine. “The foundation is there for us to evolve into that.”
Kendall shares her sister’s positive outlook, adding what she’s looking forward to as we carry on through the pandemic. “I’m optimistic to see some boldness and brightness,” she says when asked where she sees fashion design heading. “The world feels really ready to radiate optimism.” And with brands starting to flex such levels of inventiveness, we can’t argue that the future does indeed look bright.