For a company that began in the North East of England with a basic desire to create simple clothes, Barbour Jackets have come a very long way.
Nowadays, you may be used to seeing this proud British brand around the shoulders of fashion models and celebrities, but this was all a long way away back in 1894, when the Barbour was born in the Market Place of South Shields, a place more synonymous with industry and hard-graft than style and trend-setting.
John Barbour started it all, and is now responsible for the “English countryside look” that we all know and love. The son of a sheep-farmer, John was brought up in South-West Galloway and invented the garment at the end of the 19th Century.
At the time, he was a travelling draper, and it wasn’t long before his business had taken over his life. By then he was the pride of South Shields, and in the business of supplying Barbour Jackets to fishermen and dockers who appreciated the oilskin looks and the practical features the clothing possessed.
Soon known throughout the land, anyone who was anyone wanted the rural look, and although many copied Barbour’s style, nothing looked or felt quite the same. The same can still be said.
If you were wondering what John’s first idea was, wonder no more. The earliest coat known to exist is the Beacon Sylkoil. Devised in 1919, this short and double-breasted fawn raincoat specimen came complete with horn buttons and a suitably good-looking corduroy collar.
Inside, the lining was red-and-ochre check, with a black label stitched elegantly into the lining that bore word of the company’s South Shields routes. Between 1934 and 1955, all kinds of jackets were produced, from the 1941 Admiralty suit with high collar to the 55 motorcycling jacket that came complete with a map pocket sewn into the left breast.
Nowadays, the business, presently in its fifth generation, resides in the North East. But there’s no need to feel sad if you’re a South Shields lover, as the decision making still happens over in Simonside.
If there’s one thing which people love about Barbour Jackets, it’s how much attention goes into each and every one. Where some companies have failed by mass producing products which lack that authentic feel, Barbour have stayed true to their beginnings and ensured that all attire is hand-made.
It may be slower going than with cutting-edge machinery, but from the sales of some 100,000 sought-after jackets a year, it’s clear that things are slowing down and the personal touch will never lose its mass appeal.
2004 saw a new era of Barbour Jackets unleashed onto the public. Working with Lord James Percy, the development department at Barbour were keen to release a shooting clothing range, more officially known as the Northumberland Range.
It wasn’t long before these fine jackets began to cause a commotion, and in 2005 their technical prowess was recognised officially by winning the Shooting Industry Award. Lord James Percy continues to assist the company, and not long ago, with the help of Vice Chairman Helen Barbour, he designed the brand-new Barbour Sporting Collection, which saw huge attention in the Winter of 2011.
One of a few select British brands to have captured the imagination of the global economy, Barbour Jackets shops can now be found all over the world. With 11 in the UK and retail outlets in Europe, as well as Japan and as far a-field as New Zealand, there are as many as 2,000 products to choose from, with specific collections geared towards men, women and children, covering everything from knitwear to socks and more accessories besides.
A natural born writer, Stacey Barton writes professionally and for fun across a wide range of niches with particular attention to how classic brands can continue to offer the same product for decades and somehow survive the turbulent and ever changing consumer market.