Easily one of the most iconic brands in British design, read on for the full history of the British fashion behemoth, Barbour.
As with many other brands across the globe, Barbour’s initial growth was a combined effort of public promotion paired with military and sporting contracts. The careful creative direction of the brand, as well as the addition of select apparel throughout the years has kept it, not only as a leader in outerwear but as a fashion brand in its own right.
Read on for the complete history of Barbour.
The History of Barbour
In 1894, Scotsman John Barbour saw the need for waterproof, hard-wearing outerwear for fishermen and workers of the North East and began to produce waterproofed wax jackets. It remained rather low-key until 1908 when Barbour’s son Malcolm produced the first mail order catalogue, mail order items accounted for almost 75% of their business both nationally and internationally by 1917.
In 1912, when Barbour’s sons Jack and Malcolm joined the company as Managing Directors – the name was then changed to ‘J Barbour & Sons Ltd’; This lineage of family members continues to run the company to this day.
Having joined in 1928, Malcolm’s son, Duncan Barbour introduced the motorcycling range in 1936 to compliment their original range of Barbour coats and Jackets – the collection quickly became one of the defining pillars of Barbour’s design with almost every British racing team wearing them for decades to follow. Alongside colossal promotion through endeavours such as this, the navy also tapped into Barbour’s talents after of Captain George Philips was unsatisfied with the standard issue uniforms of the HMS Ursula submarine and ordered suits for the entire crew from Barbour. These then became standard across the navy for submarine crew members.
1952 – 1980
When Duncan Barbour passed away in 1957, his father Malcolm alongside his wife Nancy and her son John took charge of the company once again. Later that year, Barbour moved to the outskirts of South Shields and built a manufacturing plant, becoming manufacturers and marketers for the first time.
In 1964 actor Steve McQueen stopped by in London to grab a Barbour International Suit for International Six Day Trials races in East Germany. This endorsement created a large amount of promotion around the brand, only furthering it’s renowned nature among both fashion lovers and motor racers alike.
After the tragic death of John Barbour in 1968, his 28-year-old widow Margaret was placed on the board of directors. Feeling the need to carry on the family business, Margeret became a force to be reckoned within the company and by 1973 had risen to the role of chairman. It was her guidance that brought the brand from countryside brand to the global lifestyle brand it is today.
In 1974, Barbour received a Royal Warrant for Waterproof and Protective clothing from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. This only furthered the idea that Barbour was a global brand that took pride in its quality manufacturing.
1980 – Present
In 1981, Barbour moved to a new factory in Simonside, where many of Barbour’s classic wax jacket styles are all still to this day. A year later, Barbour was awarded yet another Royal Warrant by Her Majesty the Queen for ‘waterproof and protective clothing’. It was around this time that Barbour debuted their Beaufort Barbour jackets, one of their most iconic styles to this day.
Margaret Barbour and John Barbour’s daughter Helen continued the brand’s longstanding history of maintaining a family member at the helm when Helen was appointed as Vice Chairman in 1997. After Margeret’s honour of being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001, she continued to bring the Barbour name forward creating knitwear, shirts, trousers, footwear and accessories under the brand. This has been instrumental in bringing Barbour into the 21st century.
Since then, continued celebrity support, as well as the brand being worn by sports personalities’ saw Barbour open its first international store in 2013.
The History of Barbour
- In 1908, Barbour’s son Malcolm produced the first mail order catalogue which then accounted for almost 75% of their business.
- Having joined in 1928, Malcolm’s son, Duncan Barbour introduced a motorcycling range in 1936.
- In 1964 actor Steve McQueen wore a Barbour International Suit to an international racing event – further popularising the brand.
- In 1974, Barbour received a Royal Warrant for Waterproof and Protective clothing from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
- After Margeret Barbour’s honour of being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001, she continued to bring the Barbour name forward creating knitwear, shirts, trousers, footwear and accessories under the brand.
And that’s your lot! Over 100 years of history adds an interesting narrative to the brand, as well as making them one of the best in their game through over a century of research and development. Probably largely down to the maintenance of a descendant of the founder, John Barbour, at the helm – has kept the Barbour DNA fully intact through countless designers and decades.