Attire Accessories - May/Jun 2018 (Issue 70)

ATTIRE 73 PROFILE Cindi Barnstaple tells us about Owen Barry’s strong Somerset-based heritage and how the iconic British brand owes a lot to export trade Tell us a bit about how the company started. Owen Barry Ltd was founded in 1948, making 2018 our 70 th year. Five generations of the Barry family have been involved in the leather business, going back to the late 1800s. In the early 1900s Owen’s father ran the tannery in the same building as we are now. He had three sons, all of whom were involved in the business.The elder and middle sons were involved in the tanning and dying of the skins while Owen, the youngest, was trained on the manufacturing side. Following WWII Owen started his own eponymous business, not tanning but manufacturing. In those days we made leather gloves and then clothing, but essentially it was the same business we have today. What was the aim of the label when it was launched? Well that was 70 years ago, but actually our raison d’etre hasn’t changed: to manufacture beautiful quality products, 100 per cent handcrafted in the UK by a team of Somerset artisans with a commitment to providing our discerning and loyal customers with service and value together with exquisite skins and styling. How were the initial products developed, and what was the response? In those days, tastes were somewhat different, throughout the ’50s we made and sold very fine leather gloves to the UK and USA fashion markets and leather golf gloves to the exclusive US golf retailers. Owen Barry did that until the early ’60s when we were approached by an established customer, C&A.The buyer saw a need for brightly coloured suede and leather hot pants and waistcoats, she asked Owen if he could make them, and, never one to shy away from a challenge, Owen embraced the clothing opportunity and the ’60s fashion boom with a passion. What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out? Frankly, it was a pretty smooth ride until the mid/late ’80s when cheap imports started flooding into the UK. All British manufacturers suffered terribly, and we were no different. Owen Barry all but closed, lay offs and restructuring left us with a skeleton staff of only 15 skilled workers. At that point we stopped selling anything to the domestic retailers and went back to our North American customer base, a market that we knew from the ’50s had an appetite for quality British product and those customers were our saviour. We still deal with most of the same US retail chains today, nearly 30 years later! From the US we went onto Japan in 1994; we were able to rebuild our skilled staff base totally on export sales, and, in truth, stayed completely away from the UK market until early 2000. Even now, well over half our turnover is export and I can never see us allowing that to change. What sets you apart from your competitors? Established British manufacturers specialising in leather and sheepskin with our breadth of skills and knowledge are pretty thin on the ground, we have been Somerset’s finest Owen Barry