Law student ‘goes green’ with eco-friendly clothing line

May 8, 2009 | Features
By Megan Lewis

In addition to stressing over finals like most law students, 24-year-old Kyle Smitley, founder and owner of eco-friendly children’s clothing line, barley & birch, is concerned about when her next shipment of clothing will be in.

Kyle Smitley shows off one of the shirts made by her company, barley & birch.

Kyle Smitley shows off a shirt made by her eco-friendly company, barley & birch.

She was an environmental geoscience and philosophy major at DePauw University and is now a full-time UT law student.

Smitley has been operating the business since 2007. All of the clothing is made in the United States using 100 percent certified organic cotton and water-based inks.

“Organic clothing is important because conventional cotton today uses 25 percent of the world’s insecticides, seven of the 10 top ingredients having been noted by the Environmental Protection Agency as having carcinogenic properties,” she said.

According to Smitley, using organic cotton results in healthier soil, food and water. “Basically, using organic cotton is just one piece of the eco-friendly puzzle,” she said.

Every facet of barley & birch is carbon neutral. The company does this by offsetting all emissions created by production and shipping and working with manufacturers that are largely powered by solar energy.

“For instance, we might plant a certain number of trees in order to offset emissions produced by delivery trucks or the printer,” Smitley said.

She said the brand is really starting to take off with recent celebrity support. Stars including Jessica Alba and Sheryl Crow have dressed their children in barley & birch.

Socially, barley & birch donates 30 percent of its profits to organizations working to improve the environment and global community.

Smitley said the key to balancing both student and business responsibilities is extreme time management. “I do a lot of multi-tasking,” she said. “If I get a break from class, I am e-mailing on my iPhone while making a call on my regular cell phone. I try not to work during classes, but sometimes it’s impossible.”

She said the company is named after two symbolic things in her childhood. “‘Barley’ represents the barley fields around where I went to school, and ‘birch’ represents the birch trees that surround my family’s lake house and in the front yard of my childhood home.”

Her company recently was added to the National Green Pages, which is the United State’s premier listing of environmentally and socially responsible businesses.

Smitley said the National Green Pages has been a helpful tool because she is able to network with other eco-friendly companies and get outside advice on certain aspects of her green business. “It’s like having 1,000 mentors,” she said.

According to Smitley, there are so many easy ways to make a difference in the Toledo area; these include buying local products and bringing your own bags to the grocery store.

“UT students should get out and experience the community by volunteering an hour a month at the animal shelter, soup kitchen or wherever,” she said.

Her goal is to build the business in order to make a difference in the world and dedicate legal services to nonprofit organizations.

To see Smitley’s clothing line, go to

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