"Barbour is in my blood," says Dame Margaret Barbour, chairman of the storied British clothing brand. Founded by John Barbour in 1894, the company began by outfitting fishermen and mariners in oilskins to protect them from harsh weather at sea. It has been passed down through generations of Barbours over 125 years, with Dame Margaret succeeding her late husband, also named John, after his death in 1968. She is credited as the person to take the waxed cotton jackets from rustic and rural to high fashion, worn by celebrities and even the royal family.
"Barbour jackets become part of your life, evoking memories of events and occasions, and our customers have a genuine emotional affection for their jackets," she tells us. As the matriarch of the now five-generation business—her daughter, Helen, serves as vice chairman—Dame Margaret holds her own special fondness for Barbour and has made it her mission to carry on the family tradition, describing herself and Helen as "guardians of the Barbour brand." She shares some memories throughout their history and tells us what it's like to count Queen Elizabeth as a supporter.
What is it that makes Barbour such a timeless brand?
We have always stayed true to our heritage, and I believe our customers trust us and know exactly what to expect—high-quality clothing that is practical and fit for purpose whether you live and work in the city or in the country.
What do you love most about Barbour?
What I love most is that we are a family business, now five generations, and for 125 years, we have honored John Barbour's founding. It was my late husband's company, and he was passionate about it. I have made it my life's work to fulfill his legacy and will always be involved—the company and all our hard-working employees are too important to me.
Is there a moment from Barbour's history that sticks out in your mind as a great accomplishment or highlight?
There have been many exciting memories, but working on a trade stand in France in the 1970s gave me the inspiration to increase the range. I designed the three waxed cotton jackets in the early 1980s that have become iconic: the Bedale, the Beaufort and the Border. I then introduced the Bedale in navy blue into the range, as it appealed to both men and women. It was our first foray into fashion and onto the High Street, and it picked up on the trend at that time for smart, casual outerwear.
Over 30 years later, they continue to be bestsellers and have today been recreated in different fits and fabrics. We now use famous tartan linings created by Kinloch Anderson, based on the Ayrshire District Tartan from where the Barbour family originated in the 13th century.
Queen Elizabeth is a fan. What does that feel like for you?
I am immensely proud that we hold three Royal Warrants from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales. Barbour is one of only a small number of companies to hold three Royal Warrants, and it is a great honor that our workmanship and enduring quality are recognized by one of the highest authorities in the land. It also drives us to never let our standards slip. The warrants are renowned as a mark of quality around the world from the United States, throughout Europe, to Asia.
I have been lucky enough to meet HM The Queen and other members of the royal family on several occasions. In 1994, for our centenary, Prince Charles came to visit the factory in South Shields, which was a very special occasion.
What are you most excited about for the brand's future?
I hope that we will continue to do what we have always done—deliver high quality, authentic clothing that is functional and stylish. The beauty of Barbour is that it can be worn to suit every person's individual's style—you make it your own.