Modern Hippie of the Month Kyle Smitley, owner and founder of Barley & Birch children’s clothing line
Kyle Smitley is the owner and founder of barley & birch, a line of planet-saving children’s clothing. Kyle is also a full-time law student and was one of Inc. Magazine‘s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs in 2009.
How did you start “thinking green,” and what inspired you to do so?
I started living a green lifestyle in college when I took my first environmental science class. I think I was just blown away learning about all the effects that humans have on the planet and what will happen if this behavior continues. It was just mindboggling to me. During our first week, my professor asked us to save and bring to class every drink container we used for a week. Then she taught us all the effects of the plastic industry and the 90% of them that will end up in the trash. Needless to say, it made an enormous impact. I chose the field as my major and now, with my degree in environmental science, I carry that education and passion with me everywhere.
How does being a “modern hippie” speak to you personally?
It really exemplifies the sorts of things I have to do and decide on a daily basis. I think part of being a modern hippie is knowing when, where, and how to let both your hippie and modern sides come forth. Both running a business and being in law school are typically full of rules and deadlines, but being involved with the eco-friendly world is full of spontaneity and tree-hugging that is associated with being a “hippie.” My peers in law school are very straight-laced, goal- and money-focused, and all about school, so I really enjoy the concept of being a “modern hippie” because it’s all about being balanced and using your inner mix of being modern and being a hippie to improve your life, your community, and the world as a whole.
Can you tell us a bit about Barley & Birch?
Barley & Birch is a children’s clothing line that was created to give parents a truly organic and healthy alternative for their kids, while using the profits to make the line entirely carbon neutral. We also give at least 15% of the profits to organizations that are changing the lives of people all over the world.
How does Barley & Birch embody eco-friendliness?
We keep our environmental standards exceptionally high where all others cut some corners. We don’t stop at having one piece or even all of them being made of organic cotton. We have them printed with cutting-edge water-based inks with natural pigments. We have everything made in the United States (to avoid the pollution involved with trans-ocean shipping and because we are able to see the working conditions first hand.) We offset every ounce of carbon emissions. As far as being eco-friendly, I can’t think of one other clothing brand that goes to these lengths, which really should be the baseline, when you think about it.
What other modern hippies inspire you?
You know, I love reading the blog Recycle Your Day for eco-inspiration. The writer, Leslie, really amazes me. I think I am pretty eco-aware at all times, really, but then I read her blog and she is making her own body cream and taking her own containers to get take out and I am like, “Dang! This woman is awesome! I need to step it up!” And I am always inspired by young women that are doing their part to truly do what’s best for the planet, like Alasandra, owner of Vivi Bambini, a children’s boutique in New Jersey. There are so many young women out there pretending to be green to make a quick buck, and it’s refreshing to find someone doing it for the right reasons.
What are some eco-friendly products you can’t live without?
My coffee thermos. It might not jump out at you as being eco-friendly, but when you think of the amount of waste that it prevents, it’s really incredible! Other than that, I love my compostable garbage bags and my CSA membership, so I am supporting local farms and cutting down on the incredible amount of fossil fuels that go into conventional off-season food consumption. All of these things make an enormous difference and are so very simple! It’s awesome!
Where do you get the materials for your clothing?
Everything is sourced from the United States.
Where is the clothing manufactured?
It’s milled, dyed, cut, and sewn in the same town in North Carolina. Making this happen was incredibly difficult to do, and it has huge environmental benefits. It’s also great that every single person in our chain knows one another and one another’s families. It is so neat!
Is every material used in your line sustainable?
Absolutely. If we hit an obstacle and doubt the sustainability of a facet of a new idea, it’s trashed. We don’t move forward with any concept that we couldn’t hold up to any of our customers and say “Look, it’s perfect.”
What are the price points?
Our pieces range from $25 to $60.
Where can people buy Barley & Birch clothing?
For what ages are the items available?
Our items are for children ages 3 months up through 10 years.
What is your background that led you to starting Barley & Birch?
I received my undergraduate degree from DePauw University having majored in Environmental Science and Philosophy with minors in Spanish and Chemistry. People teased me at the time, but every single subject had come in handy in the development of my business.
What are some of your other activities/hobbies?
I love to surf. I could surf all day. I also live for yoga. It truly ends up being the only moment of my day that my mind is silent and I am not stressing about work or school or saving the planet.
I know that you have a personal connection with what’s going on in Haiti. Can you tell us a bit about the time you spent there?
When I first traveled to Haiti, I was 17. My main purpose on my initial trip to Haiti was simply to deliver rice and water to schools all over the countryside and in the mountains, where there is little to no access to fresh drinking water. I fell in love with the country and, years later, I created Barley & Birch with the goal of being able to fund schools and clinics in Haiti. I’ve since been able to do that and continue to make wonderful friends there while helping the country that inspired me to work hard to change the planet.
How are you involved now?
We send money and in-kind donations to schools and clinics that I’ve worked with personally and see a need with. This sort of aid will all change now, after the earthquake, and we are all scrambling to figure out the status of our schools and friends and determine the most effective way for us to help now and long term.
What can we do to help?
Fortunately, there are many ways for people to help out. I can’t say enough good things about Oxfam, as they have an incredible reputation all over Haiti and Central America for the strength of their staffers and their ability to give aid exactly where it’s most needed. Another great group is MADRE, a group that focuses on helping women in nations like Haiti. I have worked with these organizations personally in Haiti and Central America. The best part about these two groups is that they have solid infrastructure and relationships that have been in place for over 30 years. In times of crisis, like now, that pre-existing infrastructure is crucial. There are lots of great groups that are really coming, through, from what I have been told, such as Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children, which are truly saving lives every minute in Haiti at the moment.
barley & birch – conscious by nature, www.barleyandbirch.com
Ellie P. Campbell’s eco-interests range from natural and organic foods to skincare products, clothing and other useful gear. She is a freelance photographer, editor, writer and graphic designer. Find her beautiful photography at www.elliepcampbellphotography.com. Read Ellie’s other contributions to Modern Hippie Mag here.