‘Service means doing all in one’s power to oblige a customer.’ So wrote Malcolm Barbour in the introduction to the Barbour Catalogue of 1919.
J Barbour & Sons was founded in 1894 in South Shields by Malcolm’s father, John Barbour, to supply seamen with oilskin coats to protect them from inclement weather. Malcolm produced the first Barbour catalogue, receiving orders from as far afield as Chile, South Africa, Hong Kong and the Falkland Islands. By 1917, mail order accounted for 75 per cent of Barbour’s business.
Now a fifth generation, family-owned business, Barbour is one of Britain’s best-known and loved brands, holding three Royal Warrants and sold in 40 countries worldwide.
Today Barbour encompasses everything a modern wardrobe needs: shirts, knitwear, trousers, footwear and a range of accessories for men, women, children and even dogs. The iconic waxed jackets remain at the heart of the brand and are still handmade at Barbour’s factory in South Shields. Remaining true to Malcolm Barbour’s dedication to customer service, a Barbour waxed jacket can be returned at any time to be rewaxed, repaired or altered. There are now two standalone brands – Barbour is inspired by the British countryside and Barbour International by the motorcycling heritage established in 1936 by Duncan Barbour, Malcolm’s son. Barbour is now worn by everyone from traditional country people to urban festival goers, and it is as popular in town as it is in the country.
And it isn’t just for humans – this year Barbour became the first brand to introduce a Dog Loyalty scheme. Called ‘It’s a Barbour Dog’s Life’, the scheme invites customers to provide information on their dogs to receive exclusive dog content, free gifts, birthday messages and invitations to dog-friendly events. The brand’s human fans include the royal family, musicians, TV and film celebrities. Scottish actor Sam Heughan is Barbour’s Global Brand Ambassador and as well as having his own Signature collection,he is also the face of Shirt Department, a range of smart casual checked and
plain shirts in a choice of styles and fits.
Now over 120 years old, Barbour is an authentic British brand, which still keeps its family feel, with Dame Margaret Barbour as Chairman and her daughter Helen as Vice Chairman, while employing over a thousand people worldwide.
The people who work there are passionate about the brand and many have worked for Barbour for over 20 years. In 2019, Barbour will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Its core values of service have never changed. A Barbour waxed jacket will last a lifetime if waxed once a year, and becomes part of its wearer’s life, as evidenced by the paraphernalia that has been found in pockets of jackets that come back for repair: cartridges, phials of monkey’s blood, love letters, jewellery and even the keys to St James’s Palace. Barbour’s oldest jacket is affectionately called ‘Uncle Harry’ and dates from 1910, passed down through three generations. Marie Claire magazine summed up the company’s unique position in 2016: ‘Barbour, a brand that is basically the fashion embodiment of true British grit.’