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Home > Meet Kyle Smitley, Barley & Birch

Meet Kyle Smitley, Barley & Birch

June 1st, 2010 · No Comments

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Kyle Smitley

President , Barley & Birch

Kyle Smitley, Barley & BirchIf you were a recent college graduate with a liberal arts degree in environmental science, philosophy, chemistry and Spanish, what would you do? Start an organic children’s clothing line, of course! Twenty-five year old Featured Lady Kyle Smitle did just that, launching Barley & Birch in 2009 during her first year of law school. Boasting favorable mentions on Daily Candy and Cool Mom Picks, and popular with celebrity moms like Jessica Alba and Sheryl Crow, Barley and Birch has appeared in OK! and Us Weekly. In 2009, Barley and Birch earned $500,000 in annual revenue. This year, the Oceanside, California company is on track to reach $1.5 million. Kyle was also featured on Inc. Magazines’s Top 30 Under 30.

Growing up, Kyle wanted to be a trainer at Sea World; however, after hanging up her cap and gown she headed to Washington, DC for an unpaid internship with a federal agency focusing on historic preservation. As a side job she started doing scientific research consulting for a high-end clothing boutique. Kyle explains, “I just knew I wanted to stay out of a cubicle in a corporate environment.”

What the DePauw University grad uncovered through her research was alarming. “There were a lot of businesses in the organic children’s clothing market that were outright lying,” Kyle says. “They claimed to be eco-friendly, great for the world and safe for baby, but that wasn’t ever the full truth.”

Determined to make a difference, and at age twenty-two, Kyle decided to start her own organic children’s clothing line, Barley & Birch. “I wanted to give parents and children the safest and most environmentally friendly clothing possible,” she says. “I also wanted to use any profits that that business created to help improve the global community.” So in 2008 she postponed law school for a year and, with no apparel industry experience, built her business structure. “I saw there was a gap in the market and wanted to bring attention to this issue, so I decided to launch. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Kyle says.

Barley and Birch

Despite having flawless credit, Kyle was turned down at every bank she approached. No one would lend the budding young entrepreneur the $10,000 she needed, until she found Accion, a microfinancing organization. “What I liked was that the interest I paid went to funding other loans and not to a large corporate bank,” Kyle says.

With her start-up capital in-hand, she hired a web designer and worked with a children’s clothing designer to produce the t-shirts, onesies and pants. Next Kyle embarked on a major marketing campaign, sending 500 hand-signed letters with sales sheets to environmentally conscious stores. “I felt like, ‘We’re so cool, we’ll sell out in 48 hours!’” Kyle says. When that didn’t happen, she tried a “desperate attempt to sell inventory” by reaching out to mom bloggers. Soon, moms were asking for the brand in boutiques. Kyle recalls it was a crazy first four months, because of how fast Barley & Birch took off and that she was starting her first year of law school. By the end of 2009, Barley & Birch was in over 30 stores.

As a result of her internship experience, Kyle knew exactly the kind of fabrics she wanted to use. Barley & Birch’s clothing is 100% certified organic cotton and dyed with water-based inks so it doesn’t pollute the air and water with chemicals. Because the clothes are produced domestically, the company does not contribute to the massive amount of carbon associated with trans-ocean shipping. Socially, Kyle gives at least 15% of the profits to a variety of organizations working all over the world to improve the lives of others. Barley & Birch’s contributions have funded everything from educating rural farmers on sustainable agriculture to providing shelter to victims of abuse.

With six people now on staff and poised for rapid growth, Kyle’s vision for Barley & Birch is clear. E-commerce on the website will be available this summer. In the fall, the company will expand into bedding. She eventually wants to open store fronts and evolve into a major lifestyle company. Even with a million dollar business, Kyle remains committed to completing law school. “I always had the goal to become a lawyer,” she explains. “I want to find a way to use my brain to help others.”

What we learned from Kyle: “My dad told me, ‘You really need to look and plan out exactly how much money you need.’ I didn’t listen, started too low and ended up working crazy hours. Whatever you think you’ll need, double it.”

Proceed with Caution
“As a young entrepreneur with no experience, I was a sitting duck. There were people that either didn’t take me seriously or wanted to take my money.”

Be Aware
“Do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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