Barbour Director of Menswear Ian Bergin on the changing ways we shop and the benefits of collaborations
Ian Bergin joined Barbour over 11 years ago in May 2010 as Head of Menswear. In March 2015, he became Director of Menswear, Footwear and Accessories, and in April 2019 he was appointed to Barbour’s Board of Directors. He’s responsible for the overall design direction and strategy for all of the menswear collections for Barbour and Barbour International.
As a real product person, and a keen wearer of Barbour jackets himself, even prior to joining the brand, he was a perfect match to take the menswear reins at the brand and drive it forward, while also respecting its rich heritage and classic products.
Speaking to TheIndustry.fashion's In Conversation podcast, in partnership with Klarna, Bergin said: “I think with Barbour you’re instantly attracted to such iconic products. If you’re a product person, it’s hard to get away from that, plus it’s a small family business and the people are light on their feet.
“There was an openness to try new things when I joined the business in 2010, but there was also a real drive to preserve what’s great about Barbour while we grew it – which is always a tricky balance.
“I’ve always worn Barbour jackets myself, so I was instantly warm to the brand in that sense already. It’s important to like what you do, otherwise it’s a very long day.”
A lot has gone on in retail in terms of the amount of what’s on offer and the way people shop since Bergin’s early days at Barbour, and while he appreciates the speed and availability being so much more advantageous through technology these days, he also has a soft spot for the days when you had to be more pro-active hunting the right products – as a consumer and as a brand leader.
“The sheer amount of brands you see now, whether specialist or generalist brands, and the access people have to them online and on their phones, compared to what it was like when I was younger, is just a different world,” commented Bergin.
“You had to go out and find something in your local retailer or travel to different towns if you were looking for a particular garment. You may have bought GQ and read about something, or seen one of your mates wearing something you really liked – then wanting to go on the hunt for it. So, that is a huge change, which people now take for granted.
“It’s great to be able to just go on your phone and find something straight away. It’s certainly taken some of the challenge out, but I guess it also takes out some of the specialness too, because when you’ve really had to work to find something then it becomes a bit special to you. Now it’s all instant. It’s convenient, but it perhaps loses some of its sparkle because of that.”
What has been key to Barbour’s ongoing attraction to new customers and different markets has been its strong line of collaborations, most recently with A Bathing Ape (BAPE) and C.P. Company, and Bergin believes it’s an important part of their business strategy, and well as often being an enjoyable process.
He said: “From a business perspective, the right collaborations can put us in some great stores that maybe we wouldn’t have had presence in previously, as well as globally getting some coverage in opinion forming media. So, there is a sound rationale behind why we do those things – to keep the brand very visible to lots of different people.
“But brands don’t really collaborate, it’s the people in the brands that collaborate. Some of the most fascinating collaborations are the ones that clash with your brand, because they can really create something unique and make people think ‘I wonder what that’s going to look like?’ They generate real interest.”
Supreme, and more recently BAPE, are two such collaborations that many didn’t anticipate, though Bergin also really enjoys working with like-minded brands and designers for Barbour’s collaborations, which are perhaps “more symbiotic and complementary.”
He commented: “C.P. Company was one of those brands where you’ve got that real design history of Massimo Osti, who was a bit of a giant in our industry. He actually owned a Barbour ‘Beaufort’ jacket and based part of the design of C.P.’s ‘Mille Miglia’ jacket on the ‘Beaufort’, so you’ve got that link there straight away. It’s also great to collaborate in celebration of C.P.’s 50th anniversary year. That was a lovely one to do because you are dealing with very like-minded people who just love product and are really into getting it all right.
“In terms of value, collaborations also keep our brand interesting, and throw a different light on it, whichever direction you go in. You’ve got to be a little bit careful who you collaborate with, but I think that as long as there is a sense of fun and a sense of learning from a collaboration, I think it really works. They are always worthwhile doing, if a little long-winded to organise!"
In terms of the new BAPE collaboration, as well as being interesting to do there was also a definite strategic angle for Barbour hitting key markets. “We certainly thought Bathing Ape would be good fun to do, but also from a business point of view they’ve got a very big youth market in the Far East, and that’s where we are trying to grow our business. There are sound business reasons for doing it. Also, we felt that with their DNA as a brand we could do something interesting, which I think we have. The product has come out really well.
“It was the same with the collaboration we did with Supreme. We thought it was something we hadn’t done before and if we managed it properly it would be interesting.”
A more long-standing Barbour collaboration has been with Engineered Garments which, while the latest one for AW21 is the last for now, the door is always open for future projects.
Bergin said: “That one is a favourite of mine as Daiki Suzuki is such a genuinely talented designer. In this industry, you come across some people who just really know what they are doing, and Daiki is one of them.
“Engineered Garments has a really nice aesthetic which really does suit Barbour. We’ve done some fantastic garments with him where he brings his own kind of aesthetic and DNA while also being very respectful of our brand. It always looks like Barbour, but with his kind of design flair. The last collaboration is for AW21, but it’s a relationship we can reboot at any time really, as we have the utmost respect for each other.”
Listen to more on TheIndustry.fashion In Conversation podcast, in partnership with Klarna, with Ian Bergin here.