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British family business profile: Barbour

By Jessica Tasman-Jones

Tragedy led Dame Margaret Barbour into the family business – she joined the weatherproof garment company one month after the sudden death of her husband in 1968. In the five decades since, she has turned it into an international fashion label – favoured by festival goers through to royalty. Her daughter, Helen, joins her at the helm.




Scotland's John Barbour settled in north-east England to establish his weatherproof garment company in 1894. The company then served sailors, fishermen, and dockers. Today, the family business chairwoman is Dame Margaret Barbour, who is credited with transforming Barbour's coats into desirable fashion items. She was thrust into the family business at the age of 28, following the sudden death of her husband, fourth-gen John Barbour. Their daughter, Helen, is vice chairwoman.




A month after her husband's death, Barbour joined the family business dipping her fingers in all departments from accounts to reception. In the 1980s, she designed three wax jackets that would become a fashion favourite of the Sloane Rangers, the clique epitomised by Princess Diana (although she would not be its first royal fan – the company had already received its first Royal Warrant in 1974 from the Duke of Edinburgh). Its wax jackets continue to be made at its UK factory, where more than 13,000 jackets are received each year for repair, reproofing, or altering.




A Financial Times article from 2010 says Dame Margaret eschews debt and insists on the company being cash rich. The company has done collaborations with Adidas and Pantone in recent years. Barbour, along with her daughter Helen, established the Women's Fund to support women in the local region. Unlike other fashion brands, the company has resisted exporting manufacture to China due to labour concerns (last Christmas employees striked for unpaid overtime). However it has expanded to cheaper parts of Europe. Helen is head of sporting goods and vice chairwoman.

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