An interview with Helen Barbour, Barbour
North East England is a region defined by its heritage and one famous local company that truly exemplifies this is Barbour. Established in 1894, Barbour has grown to be one of the most instantly recognisable British premium lifestyle brands across the world. But despite its success and longevity, it has stayed true to its roots.
John Barbour established J. Barbour & Sons in South Shields in 1894 to sell oilskins to mariners, dockers and farmers to protect them from the worst of the British weather. But under the guidance of Dame Margaret Barbour (who became involved in the business in 1968 after her husband sadly passed away) and her daughter, Helen (who was appointed vice-chairman of the company in 1997), Barbour has evolved and it is now known for its high-quality, stylish clothing that is equally at home in rural Northumberland or on the city streets of Newcastle.
Waxed jackets have become synonymous with the South Tyneside-based company – and are worn, and loved, by people across the world – but what makes Barbour unique is its ability to bring new products to new markets without losing sight of its historical aesthetic. Whether it be motorcycling suits, dress tartans, sportswear or the iconic country wear – every product is instantly recognisable as Barbour.
The company celebrated its 125th anniversary last year with the launch of a collection called Icons Re-Engineered and an exclusive collaboration with film director Ridley Scott, who is also from South Shields.
Helen Barbour is the fifth generation to be involved with the running of the business and as vice-chairman spends a lot of her time attending board meetings, product and launch presentations as well as doing philanthropic work through The Barbour Foundation and the Women’s Fund.
“My mother and I are the guardians of the Barbour brand and we would never allow the business to diversify into areas that are not true to our founding principles,” she said.
Lifestyle and wellbeing are at the heart of Barbour’s vision. The company makes quality garments predominantly for the great outdoors, of which there is no shortage in North East England.
Whether it be a morning stroll along one of the glorious beaches, a look around the historic castles, a picnic in one of the city’s parks or a hike across the dramatic countryside; Barbour apparel looks and feels like it’s made for exploring this region.
One of the biggest draws of NewcastleGateshead is the quality of life people can have here, in no small part because of the unrivalled access to all of these natural assets – Alnwick, Hadrian’s Wall or Bamburgh, for example, are only around an hour away by road.
Having the city, coast and countryside on your doorstep are what makes a balanced lifestyle possible.
As Helen said, “it is all about balance.”
And with a busy working life, Helen has to try harder than most to find that balance.
“The most important thing for me is family time,” she said. “I am very busy, but I always make time for my family as they are the most important thing to me – spending time with my husband, three children and four dogs.”
Despite the increasing pressures of operating in a global market, Barbour is still based in South Shields where John Barbour started the business.
Helen said: “Our headquarters and our factory where we make our traditional wax jackets have always remained in South Shields. North East England is part of our DNA and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.”
For her leisure time, Helen puts the Barbour ethos into practice, wrapping up warm and spending time exploring the region’s natural beauty with her family.
She said: “My top three favourite places would have to be Beamish Museum in County Durham, Beadnell Bay in Northumberland and Jesmond Dene in Newcastle.
“Beamish Museum is a fantastic place to visit – you can learn all about early life in North East England and my family and I have been going to Beadnell since I was a little girl – the coastline is spectacular.
“We are also so lucky to have Jesmond Dene in the heart of Newcastle – I love the ever-changing colours of the trees and flowers through the season.”
Next time you see someone wearing Barbour, remember the region that inspires it – North East England.
The content and photography in this editorial section were produced by North East Times.