Barbour, Dame Margaret
Dame Margaret is chairman of the global lifestyle company J Barbour & Sons Ltd of South Shields, established in 1894 by her late husband’s great-grandfather, John Barbour (1848-1918). She became involved in the management of the company in 1968 following the death of her husband John Barbour, aged just 29, from a brain haemorrhage. Under her leadership, Barbour has grown from being primarily a countrywear brand into a globally recognised lifestyle brand that designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of premium men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. Countrywear is still at the heart of the brand aim and the iconic classic waxed Barbour jackets are still made in South Shields. Customers can also return old jackets to the factory for re-waxing and repairing.
Margaret Barbour had begun her career as a teacher when she met John Barbour, who was working for the firm in the southern counties at that time. After John’s untimely death, she threw herself into the Barbour, learning all aspects of the business bottom up, department by department. This grounding served her well after she succeeded Nancy Barbour, her mother in law, as chairman in 1973. As a young woman in tune with fashion and with a talent for listening and learning from customers, Margaret brought something fresh and vital to what was then a traditional company serving a loyal but limited market. She understood, almost instinctively, that a change in strategy was needed, but a change built on the formidable reputation the company had won for quality and fitness-for-purpose. What was needed, she decided, was to widen the product range and to make a range of jackets that appealed to the younger generation, offering variant styles and colours, while retaining the country-style that appealed so much to the so-called ‘Sloan Rangers’ (wealthy young people living in fashionable parts of London who drove Range Rovers) during the 1980s. What had really changed at Barbour was that design and product development had moved centre-stage, enabling the company to move with the times while retaining its reputation for quality, integrity and tradition. Winning Royal Warrants, identification with the best of British culture, and having Barbour garments worn by famous people have all added lustre to the brand. Dame Margaret remains active in the strategic management of the business, as chairman of a five-member board of directors, working alongside her daughter and Vice Chairman, Helen (b. 1966). Barbour employs 1,000 people and its products are sold in 40 countries across the world.
As a family business, Barbour has taken the welfare of its employees seriously, providing security of employment, training, a range of benefits above the norm, and support for the local community. Margaret Barbour subscribed, and continues to subscribe, to this approach. In 1988 she and Helen established the Barbour Charitable Trust. The Trust has since developed into the Barbour Foundation, but its essential charitable purpose remains the same:
- The relief of patients suffering from any form of illness or disease.
- The furtherance of general education of children and young people.
- The protection and preservation of features of cities, towns, villages and the countryside. that are of special environmental historical or architectural interest.
- The relief of persons in conditions of need, hardship or distress in the UK.
The Trust is a family affair, with Margaret and Helen serving as two of the (normally) three trustees. The Foundation holds a small equity stake in J Barbour and Sons but the majority of its accumulated assets and income stem from family donations and investment income. Since its inception, the Barbour Foundation has given over £20m to charitable activities, mainly grants to North East charities. In 1999 Dame Margaret established the Women’s Fund at the Community Foundation for Tyne & Wear and Northumberland with an initial donation of £250,000. An annual Women in Philanthropy network event is attended by 300 female business leaders from across the North East, showcasing charitable projects that help women reach their full potential, and boosting the Women’s Fund. Dame Margaret has been a major supporter of medical research and education at Newcastle University, most recently in 2014 through a £2 million donation to the Future Fund of the Centre for Childhood Cancer.
In 2000, in memory of her mother in law, Margaret set up The Nancy Barbour Award, an annual award within the Women's Fund that was originally to recognise organisations helping women to play a more active part in the community, particularly those who work with a disability. The fund now makes awards to local charitable organisations recommended by Dame Margaret.
Margaret Barbour was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2001 for services to industry in North East England.
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