Article: The Story of Barbour: From Farmers and Fisherman to an iconic fashion brand.
The Story of Barbour: From Farmers and Fisherman to an iconic fashion brand.
J Barbour & Sons was founded in 1894 in South Shields in the North East of England. The company began by supplying oilskins and other garments to protect the growing community of sailors, fishermen and dockers from the worst of the North Sea weather. Now a fifth generation family owned company, Barbour’s traditional waxed jackets continue to be manufactured in South Shields.
In 1906, Barbour expanded to selling clothing for farmers, land owners and shepherds, allowing the business to cater to a larger audience. Then in 1908, Malcolm Barbour produced the first Barbour catalogue, broadening its client base globally to places including Chile, South Africa and Hong Kong. By 1917, 75% of the company’s business came via the mail order catalogues.
In 1936, Duncan Barbour, the grandson of founder John Barbour, and himself a keen motorcyclist, introduced a motorcycling suit, the Barbour International. Named after the International Six Day Trials (ISDT), the Barbour International motorcycling suit quickly took off and was worn by the British International Team and many others from 1939 to 1977. In 1957, 97% of all competitors who took part in the Scottish Six Day Event rode in Barbour International Waxed Cotton Suits. Actor and racer Steve McQueen wore a Barbour International Suit in the 1964 ISDT in East Germany as a member of the US team.
During the Second World War, Barbour became a main supplier of clothing for the military developing the Ursula suit, a two piece jacket and trousers, adapted from the Barbour International motorcycling suit which became standard issue for the Submarine Service.
Following the war, in August 1957, Barbour moved to the Simonside Trading Estate on the outskirts of South Shields and after 63 years of being a retailer, Barbour became manufacturers and marketeers.
In 1968, John Barbour, the fourth generation of the family tragically died at the age of 29. Following his death, the business was left to his widow Margaret. Having had no involvement in the company up until that point, she immediately threw herself into the company and set about learning all aspects of the business. In 1973, she was made Chairman of the company, a position she still holds today. She continued the legacy that John had begun - to focus on countrywear. This is when the Barbour we know and love today began to evolve.
The 1980s saw the design of the three waxed jackets that made Barbour a household name - the Bedale, the Border and the Beaufort. These waxed jackets epitomised the growing trend for casual relaxed clothing. Truly iconic designs, they continue to be best sellers and are still made in Barbour’s factory in South Shields.
Margaret Barbour was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002. In 2004, Barbour began working with Lord James Percy, considered to be one of the best shots of his generation, on the Northumberland shooting range which won a range of awards and made Barbour a favourite in the shooting community.
Today, Barbour has 9 of its own retail shops in the UK and a presence in over 40 countries, ranging from Germany to the United States and Japan. Since early 2000, Barbour has grown to become a fashion statement as well as a functional outdoor clothing brand. Barbour’s vision is to become the best British lifestyle brand worldwide.
Many celebrities have been pictured sporting Barbour clothing over the years, propelling the brand’s heritage and popularity to a wider audience each year. An authentic British brand, Barbour is renowned and much loved for its timeless classic style. In all that it does, it remains true to John Barbour’s founding principles of quality, durability, attention to detail and fitness for purpose.