UK brand takes the art route

Tony Wang, who has been living in London since high school, says: “The weather is always the best topic to start a conversation with here, and complaining about wet shoes and a destroyed hairstyle can bring people closer.

“I spend most of my time thinking about two things: what to eat, except potato, and what to wear to handle another cold, windy, rainy day.”

As early as 1894, John Barbour had already noticed the trouble that came with volatile weather and also the need for waterproof clothing. So, he started by supplying oilskins to outdoor workers, such as fishermen and sailors.

He soon opened his first store, named J. Barbour & Sons, in South Shields, a port on the River Tyne in the northeast of England.

Now, 125 years later, Barbour is a family business that’s been passed down five generations.

The brand’s most iconic product, the jacket with a rugged weatherproof waxed cotton shell, corduroy collar, corrosion-proof brass buttons and pockets for storage and drainage eyelets, has been improved over the decades, but it is still manufactured by hand.

The brand has now reached over 40 countries, including China. And it gathered three Royal Warrants as manufacturers of waterproof and protective clothing: 1974 from the Duke of Edinburgh; 1982 from the Queen and in 1987 from the Prince of Wales.

On the official website of Barbour, many people share their stories related to the brand.

One of them is Laura Hiscox, who writes: “The slightly waxy feel and reassuring touch of a Barbour jacket has been in my memory since I was single digit in age … I grew up wearing a wax jacket, learning how to ride and care for horses, walking with my parents in the countryside, being sure to have it at music festivals.

“When I was given a leaving gift from an estate I was working at they gave me vouchers to get a new Barbour, knowing mine was decades old. I went and modernized my jacket and got the one I still wear today.”

Nina Planck, who is the founder of the London Farmers Markets, claims that she never regrets the decision of purchasing a Barbour jacket.

Writing about it, she goes: I went to an agricultural supply store asking for a waterproof jacket I could wear in all seasons that would resist scratchy things, like twigs and briars, and might be roomy enough to go over a woolly jumper on cold walks. It would have pockets and be comfortable and durable. I’ll never forget the man in the shop telling me, ‘I know just the thing,’ in that confident cheery way of British country people, and when he brought it, it was indeed perfect.”

This year, the British brand Barbour marks its 125th anniversary. And besides improving the classic and professional jackets, Barbour has also been attracting more consumers with the artsy sense.

For this, it has been collaborating with other brands and artists, including Engineered Garments, a fashion brand from Japan; and Alexa Chung, a British model and BBC presenter, who owns a namesake fashion brand.

Most recently, Barbour made the paintings of Hayden Kays, a London-based artist, wearable.

At the end of June, Kays was invited to celebrate the launch of the collaboration at Galeries Lafayette Shopping Mall in Shanghai.

Kays brought two paintings this time, presenting the importance of love. One is named Look Into My Love, a colorful circle like a bull’s-eye.

“This work is hypnotic, because I think love can make me go crazy. Love is great, and everyone loves love,” he says.

In the other work, Those Who Suffer Love, red and blue pigments are blended together like two pieces of a heart with a sentence written in between:” I will love you until the hot runs cold.” Kays says that it’s a love poem for his girlfriend.

Barbour now uses these paintings on T-shirts. And the latter doesn’t fill the whole blank canvas but only the left-hand side, taking the position of the left atrium like a broken heart.

Born in 1985 in the United Kingdom, Kays was interested in drawing and creation from childhood. And he claims that life experience is where his inspiration comes from.

“I don’t know if the exact moment and experience is going to be important … It’s just about connecting the dots and shaping them into an idea,” Kays says.

Kays says Barbour is an amazing partner, “the brand has got such a strong British identity and heritage, and at the same time, connects British brands and artists to Chinese consumers through collaboration.”

“I’m excited to see people wearing my artworks thousands of miles away from home,” Kays says.

Lyu Yi, the general sales manager of China Outfitters Holdings Limited Company, who’s managing the development of Barbour in China, says: “Barbour is maintaining its British genes by combining its sense of fashion and art, to add extra artistic value to clothing.”

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