Friday Future Leaders: Never Stop Learning with Kyle Smitley of Barley & Birch|
Never Stop Learning: Kyle Smitley, Founder of Barley & Birch
Whether you’re midway through your college career or years past graduation, it is imperative to keep a learning mind. We’ve seen it firsthand in our generation’s ability to embrace the internet: one day there is a Twitter and the next there is a Pinterest…and we quickly adapt for no other reason than we want to figure it out, so we do.
Barley & Birch, an organic youth clothing line, was founded by Kyle Smitley. Kyle had zero idea how to start an apparel company when she first began. However, during a summer research internship in Washington, D.C. Smitley found herself doing a bit of side work for a clothing boutique. She was looking into whether or not companies claimed to have organic or green products and taking a deeper look into their supply chain.
What Smitley found was not encouraging. She said in the Independent Collegian that most brands were making false claims about their products and making money doing it. Clothing for children had many heavy metals and harsh chemicals that link to asthma, hormonal defects, eczema and other skin conditions. Smitley noticed that what the companies claimed and what they were actually doing were two different things.
The need in the market was obvious to Smitley. So regardless of her environmental degree that offered little expertise in developing a clothing line, she dove in and taught herself the means to a great company, which would be accountable to both its customers and the environment. Barley & Birch clothes are made using 100 percent certified, organic cotton and water-based inks that do not pollute the environment. With no experience running a company or a clothing line, Smitley refused to take no for an answer. She let her missteps guide her and committed to finding out what she didn’t know.
When Smitley was ready to produce her first line, she had knowledge of fabrics she wanted to use, and not use, and where to source them because of her past research. She then surrounded herself with talent in areas she was lacking, like fashion experience, to bring her clothing idea to life. Working with Jodie Milmore, she designed Tshirts, one-pieces and pants. Her big launch came just months after her first year in law school.
As Barley & Birch first released the line, stores were hesitant to carry it and sales fell short. So, Smitley took to what she knew and began using the blogosphere and the power of mommy bloggers to get attention. She told them all about her brand, gave them special offers for the readers, and before she knew it stores were coming to her about carrying the clothing line because of the positive response across the blogging community. It wasn’t long before sales were taking off.
Much of that revenue, however, has been committed to helping communities. At least 15% of Barley & Birch profits go to environmental initiatives in order to make their line completely carbon neutral. Then, they donate another 15% of profits to organization all over the world improving the lives of others. Everything from sustainable agriculture education in El Salvador to girls schools in Haiti, Barley & Birch is committed to the spirit of Newman’s Own business model of giving back.
Deservedly, Smitley was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 25 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and one of Inc. Magazine’s Top Coolest Entrepreneurs Under 30. Oh, and the Huffington post named her “Greatest Person of the Day.”
Smitley is such a strong reminder of the power of pursuit. Use what you know to identify needs that your passion or skillset can answer to. But more importantly, don’t let your inexperience or lack of knowledge stop you from doing something that you are compelled to do. Just dig in, surround yourself with talent, and never stop learning.
Maxie McCoy has a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters from Lehigh in Journalism and Media, respectively. She is the co-writer of Less Work More Money and has experience hosting for Fox Sports Southwest. Follow her @maxiemccoy