The Inspirational Women Behind Barbour

Barbour is one of our favourite British brands here at Coggles. What started as a small mail-order retailer of oilskins for lighthouse keepers and outerwear for motorcyclists has become an iconic brand represented in 40 countries. Renowned for its classic wax jackets, Barbour is a real heritage brand synonymous with the British countryside, and has become a brand loved by both country dwellers and the fashion set alike.

This is a brand steeped in history. Founded in 1894 in South Shields, North East England, Barbour is still a family-owned business, with its headquarters located just minutes away from its original site. Although it sources products from around the globe, Barbour’s wax jackets are still manufactured by hand in the factory in Simonside, South Shields.

Since its beginnings, it has grown from a small company to a brand that is recognised the world over. It holds three royal warrants, and in the 1980s became popular with the Sloane Rangers. The noughties saw Barbour become a must-have brand in the discerning fashionista’s wardrobe, after the likes of Lily Allen, Alexa Chung and Alex Turner were all spotted wearing its classic jackets.

Since then it has firmly established itself as a top British fashion brand, forming collaborations with Anya Hindmarch, Paul Smith and Alice Temperley, and being a firm favourite at London Fashion Week and London Collections: Men.

The person to thank for its incredible growth and transition into the fashion world? Barbour’s Chairman Dame Margaret Barbour, who has held the position since 1972.

Dame Margaret Barbour on a beach.

Margaret, who was a qualified teacher, joined the company in 1968 when her husband John Barbour passed away. Gaining experience in every aspect of the company, she became Chairman four years later, and turned it into the great British heritage brand that we know and love today, making big changes to realise her vision of transforming the company into an international brand.

Not only has she reinvented Barbour from its rustic, worn-at-sea image, to an established, must-have fashion brand, but she has stayed true to the original family values, and kept it within the North East (it’s one of the biggest employers in the area).

She’s built up an impressive collection of awards – starting with CBE for services to Industry in 1991; DBE in the New Year’s Honours List in 2001; and Outstanding Achievement Award at the NatWest UK Fashion & Textile Awards. In 2011, she appeared in British Vogue’s Wonder Women issue, recognising her business achievements.

Dame Margaret (as her staff calls her) is also a philanthropist. In 1988 she founded the Barbour Foundation, which has awarded grants of more than £11m to charities and cultural projects. Together with her daughter Helen Barbour, she established the Women’s Fund in 1999 to support women in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, and encourage them to develop their full potential.

Speaking of Helen, she’s next on our list of inspirational women at Barbour. Only two years old when her father John died and Margaret started at Barbour, Helen Barbour has grown up with the brand and knows it inside and out. Becoming Vice Chairman in 1997, Helen and her mother are the sole owners and shareholders – a true example of keeping it in the family. Her role is to represent the company and be an ambassador, and the plan is that she’ll take over when Margaret steps down.

Helen is also Head of Barbour Sporting – a diffusion line designed for those who live, work and play in the British countryside. Functionality, durability and classic country style all play key roles in the line. She was instrumental in re-launching the Barbour Sporting range, including designing and introducing a popular new dog-walking coat.

Next up in our list of inspirational Barbour women is the newly appointed Creative Consultant for the luxurious Barbour Gold Label collection, Amanda Harlech.

Amanda Harlech.

Beginning her career working at Harpers & Queen, i-D magazine and The Face, Amanda has had a successful career as a fashion consultant. She was muse to John Galliano, before becoming muse to Karl Lagerfeld in 1996; she still works with him today on his collections for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label. In 1997, she was added to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, and has become one of the fashion industry’s leading authorities on style.

Her role at Barbour Gold Label involves designing the fashion-forward collection, which is inspired by her love of all things equestrian and British country life. Combining that with high fashion, the range is composed of soft leather, traditional tweed and timeless elegance.

Barbour, long may your reign and line of strong, inspirational women continue.

Shop the Barbour Men’s and Barbour Women’s collections at Coggles >>

Words by Angharad Jones. Images courtesy of Barbour and Jason Bell.

Sarah Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

Writer and expert