Our interview with Kyle Smitley, Founder of barley & birch

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Recently we caught up with Kyle Smitley, Founder and CEO of barley & birch. During the interview, Kyle introduces us to barley & birch while sharing advice abut the business plan process and starting up in the apparel sector.

What is Barley and Birch all about?

I started barley & birch to make a difference. I wanted to give parents and children the safest and most environmentally friendly clothing possible. I also wanted to use any profits that the business created to help improve the global community.
We opened our doors for business in January 2009. From day one, we’ve remained focused on maintaining the highest environmental and social standards in the industry.

Environmentally, we decided to make every single facet of the line carbon neutral. Not only do we offset any emissions created by production and shipping, but we work with manufacturers and suppliers that are largely powered by solar energy. We chose only certified organic cotton and water-based inks, so we do not pollute the air and water with chemicals. We are made in the United States, so we do not emit the massive amount of carbon associated with trans-ocean shipping. We are largely paper-free and any paper involved with the line is 100% post-consumer recycled. Essentially, we chose to go beyond the level of convenience to be fair to our planet and to our customers.

Socially, we give at least 15% of our profits to a variety of organizations working all over the world to improve the lives of others. We fund everything from educating rural farmers on sustainable agriculture to providing shelter to victims of abuse. We are proud to aid in the growth of justice and equality throughout the world.

How did you come up with the idea for Barley and Birch ?

I got the idea to start barley & birch after I did research (I was an Environmental Science major in college) into the natural childrens’ products industry and realized that there was a lot of deception in the apparel corner of the industry. Companies would say that their products were organic, but they didn’t mention that their products were dyed using heavy metals and sewn in sweatshops. So I decided to start barley & birch to give parents (and kids) a truly high-quality choice for clothing. Our clothing is sewn in the USA from organic cotton that was grown, milled, and dyed in the USA. We are still committed to providing the highest quality clothing and cutting no corners as a company. We are now able to say that we are the greenest, most responsible childrens’ clothing line in the country… and that feels awesome.

What were some of the challenges that you faced starting a company?

I faced so many challenges starting barley & birch. I think many people don’t realize that every single day of owning your own business will bring challenges that you have to deal with. One major challenge that I faced when starting barley & birch was to have a solid and consistent brand identity and website and then finding the right company to do it (and business loan to pay them!) It was a huge step and challenged my commitment to my vision and idea.

The apparel industry is notoriously though to succeed in, yet your line is flying onto shelves everywhere, what would you say your secret is to getting retailers to stock your products?

My secret to getting retailers excited about our product is simple: quality & a following! Showing retailers how wonderful our clothing is and then pointing them in the direction of the hundreds of blog posts and magazine articles about how much people love our clothing. After that, they are sold. (Mind you, those blog posts were often written after we sent free products to various bloggers.)
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into an accelerator program?
I have no experience with accelerators, but I always say that hard work, a high quality product, and a belief in your mission will get you wherever you want to go.

What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?

I would tell them to not over-think it! Your business will shift off your business plan more than you could ever imagine (and that is okay). I would recommend being realistic with your budget, to give yourself enough working capital to stay in business while your plan gains momentum. Budgeting/paying very much for advertising early on in your business now ,in the age of social media, would also be foolish. Trust your gut and don’t spend too much time over analyzing your business plan.

A massive thank you to Kyle for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with barley & birch early next year to see how things have progressed. In the mean time check out the their site! You can also follow them on Twitter!