Younger consumers have reconnected with Barbour thanks to its International jacket and an updated collection
Heritage brands have rarely been as relevant as they are now. The tempestuous economic climate has found consumers gravitating towards brands with unique stories and a sense of longevity, while buyers, still reeling from the cash till glories of Lyle & Scott, are all looking for the next big brand to seed.
Vying for attention among the various contenders is Barbour. The recent nationwide success of the brand’s multi-pocketed International motorcycle jacket - first launched in 1936 - helped to not only drive renewed media interest in the brand, but also reconnect it with a younger audience. This awareness at the younger end of the market was enhanced last year when the brand’s Beaufort waxed jacket became a must-have item on the music festival circuit.
“In the 1980s Barbour wax jackets were in huge demand,” says Steve Buck, Barbour’s managing director. “That dropped off in the 1990s, so when the brand made its comeback we had an opportunity not only to capitalise on its incredible heritage, but also the chance to bring the brand up to date.”
“The International has been huge for us,” Buck says. “Between the 1930s and 1970s it became like a uniform on the motorcycle trials scene. Now it’s been embraced by fashionistas as well as more contemporary motorcycling enthusiasts like Ewan McGregor, and has helped Barbour to be as relevant with the 25-plus market as it has always been with the 35-plus category.”
While the success of the International was driven organically, largely through vintage fashion obsessives looking for an alternative to Belstaff’s Trialmaster jacket, Buck and his team have been quick to take advantage of the brand’s re-emergence. “We’re developing Barbour as a lifestyle brand,” Buck says. “In the past our focus was trained on the sporting market. Now our emphasis is on evolving out from waxed jackets into a full wardrobe.”
In 2003 the brand launched its first dedicated women’s collection. Jackets that were previously unisex were tailored specifically for women and a full casualwear collection has followed. On the men’s side, popular items such as the International have been re-engineered into more fitted options.
The design team has been expanded across both men’s and women’s wear as well as accessories. While the expanded collection - which mixes a public school personality with Barbour’s country sports heritage - has led to a more international sourcing strategy, the brand’s outerwear is still manufactured from Barbour’s head office and factory in South Shields in South Tyneside.
“The challenge we face,” says Buck, “is how we develop on the momentum of the fashion spike Barbour is enjoying while retaining the authenticity of the brand. The trick will be to harness the fashion interest and move forward with it, which is exactly what we intend to do.”
- 1894 The year John Barbour first established the brand
- 600 Number of UK stockists
- £63m International turnover
- 12 Number of standalone UK shops in the Barbour portfolio