We speak to Barbour’s director of menswear Ian Bergin about the new Barbour x Brompton range of jackets, bags and.. of course.. a new special edition folding bike..
If you were asked to name a brand of jacket, Barbour would surely be near the top of the list. Likewise, when it comes to folding bikes, Brompton would be on the tip of most people’s tongues. So the idea of Barbour and Brompton collaborating on a range of outerwear and a special edition bicycle seems like the ultimate pairing of iconic British brands. Matt Lamy spoke to Barbour’s director of menswear Ian Bergin about this unique collaboration.
ML: Tell us how the Barbour x Brompton project came about?
IB: We try to look for partners who we can learn something from while developing a product; where we can develop as a business ourselves and as a design team. We’re big fans of Brompton anyway. Of course, we’re both British companies — Brompton was set up in 1975 and Barbour in 1894 — and we both produce quite iconic products. We thought bringing the two names together was interesting and we really liked what Brompton has been doing with its business, such as the opening of its Junction stores.
Gary Janes, who is Barbour’s outerwear development manager and I are keen on developing practical garments — our history is based on garments that are used to keep you warm and dry, even in the driving rain. And whilst we have a huge lifestyle business worldwide, we still wanted to think we could develop a new product that is totally practical and primarily designed for use, in this case, cycle commuting and riding a bike. So that was interesting for us and it was a process we felt we could learn from.
ML: Both you and Brompton can be seen as essentially the iconic names for your respective of products — people often say ‘Brompton’ when they mean folding bike, and ‘Barbour’ when they mean waxed jacket. That really makes for a unique pairing.
IB: It’s the brand jackpot really, isn’t it? At Barbour we’re lucky with our development in the last century that we have a DNA that isn’t strictly related to branding, but is part of the nature of the product itself in terms of wax. There’s the colour, the lovely dark olive that people associate us with, the tartan lining, the oversize zips, the corduroy on the collar, all the various studs and features that are based on making the garment totally practical for its purpose. And that’s also very true of Brompton. You can tell straightaway if it’s a Brompton because it has that folding aspect and it has that shape, that lovely silhouette. We’ve actually embroidered that shape on the new jackets as well, so we’ve got Barbour on one side and Brompton’s little folding bike logo on the other.
ML: Despite all that history, was designing clothing for cycling a bit of a step into the unknown for Barbour?
IB: Barbour has a motorcycle line called Barbour International that dates back to 1936 and, in a way, that provided a lot of the principles we needed for fitting on a bike: the longer arm, the amount of movement needed in the arm hole to make it comfortable, the slightly longer back. All those elements are easily transferable to bicycles. We then worked with the Brompton team when it came to shaping and defining the garment, making sure it would fit in a snug way. For example, we designed the arms with Brompton so they are really comfortable to wear in the normal riding position. We developed a raglan sleeve that fits very neatly over the top of each shoulder, with a little split in the top of each sleeve to allow it to really fit snuggly, so we have a very closely-fitting garment at the top.
ML: Was there anything else you learnt from the process?
IB: With the Brompton range we were able to apply some things that we really wanted to develop in terms of our overall range. With the Merton and Bromley jackets we used a special wax called Drywax, which is pure hydrocarbon. Barbour’s normal wax is made up of hydrocarbon, which is a product of the petrochemicals industry but it is mixed with oil. We oil that into the cotton to make it fast. It’s quite a traditional process and it’s one of the things that people like about Barbour garments. When the oil begins to dry out you get the character and the colour fades, which people love.
Because the oil dries out, you need to re-wax them from time to time. But with hydrocarbon you don’t. It’s a pure hydrocarbon that is bonded onto the cotton’s surface so it has no oil in it, hence why it’s called Drywax. That means it is very hardwearing, very wind resistant, very water resistant, and it’s very light. It’s also got quite a firm feel, too, which we thought suited the Brompton project. It feels quite a robust garment even though we’ve gone lightweight with the cotton. We’ve used just 4oz cotton because we didn’t want to make it too heavy or too sweaty on the bike. We’ve also vented the back of the jacket with zips that you can open, as well as on the back of the triceps, so you can open the zips there to let out moisture and heat.
Instead of using our traditional tartan lining we’ve combined our tartan with mesh lining, which is quite a technical feature. With normal wax you’ve got to put a liner inside the garment to stop the wax transferring to the lining because it bleeds through. That extra layer is fine in a jacket you’ll be walking around in but you don’t want that in a garment you’re cycling in. Using Drywax means we don’t need to put a liner in the garment, so we can make the garment very lightweight and we can just use a mesh because there is no oil to transfer.
We found all those elements quite interesting really, and we learned a lot about how we could utilise new wax technology and how we could apply that to cycling.
ML: Is this the first time you have used that lighter weight 4oz cotton in a Barbour garment?
IB: It’s the first time we’ve used 4oz and Drywax together, yes. The 6oz cotton with Drywax starts to get a little firm. If you like a heavy, robust feeling to your jackets, the 6oz with Drywax is great but most people find it slightly off-putting. But when you use Drywax on a 4oz cotton it ends up just about perfect. You have a sense of robustness in the fabric but you don’t get any of the weight issues or other problems.
ML: So, there are four jackets as part of the Brompton collaboration?
IB: Yes, that’s correct. We did one design of Drywax jacket in two fits, one for women called the Bromley and one for men called the Merton. Both the Drywax jackets are available in two colours, sage and navy.
And then, there’s also a Musette bag to go with the range as a little add-on..
ML: Were there any difficulties putting the range together?
IB: Not at all. Will Carleysmith [Brompton’s chief design and engineering officer] and Stephen Loftus [Brompton’s chief sales and marketing officer] were a delight to work with. They’re obviously extremely passionate about their business, their bikes and their factory, so it was a genuine pleasure to work with those guys. They were also determined to make sure the garments really worked for their customers and functioned perfectly.
We then added elements of what we do: we always use nice capacious pockets that you can put lots of stuff in; we’ve also put corduroy around the collar so that it feels nice and warm and comfortable with a stormguard fastening; and we used the chunky weight zips that we’re known for. So there’s a certain robustness about the jacket construction that reflects the robustness of the Brompton bikes. Like our garments, Brompton bikes are engineered to last a lifetime so we like that combination of those two elements — the bikes and the jacket — together.
ML: In terms of the Barbour x Brompton bike itself, how much input did you have with that?
IB: That was Brompton’s lead but the thing that they felt most important was getting the Barbour olive colour just right. That was actually a bit trickier than we initially thought. Our pantone reference for the olive is much, much lighter than the final jackets appear because when you wax something it darkens the fabric considerably. Even with a lot of our polyamides where we use the same kind of colour reference, when you transfer that to a gloss paint it doesn’t work so well. We had to play around with colours for quite a while so that it had a certain depth to it that matched our Barbour olive.
We also wanted the bike to have a feeling of Barbour, so Brompton suggested using various copper trims that they thought would reflect the brass aspect of our zips and those other elements of our jackets that people really like. They fitted a nice Brooks saddle with brass metalwork, then the Brompton logo on the bike is gold too.
More interaction also came with the bag. We have a Barbour x Brompton Tarras bag [ed. which comes with the bike!] that has a heavy rhino wax and quite a simple shape, but we worked with Brompton on that so that it would fit with their frame and clip onto the bike. When you see the bike with the bag on you instantly have the key Barbour signs: the very, very dark olive wax, then the olive of the frame with the gold highlights that really pop out.
ML: How much interest in cycling does the team at Barbour have?
IB: Quite a lot. Our director of supply chain has just finished riding from John o’ Groats to Land’s End for charity, raising £6,000 in the process. So he’s obviously keen and we have a number of cyclists in the building. We’re all interested in cycling because it’s such a great thing to do and bikes are fantastic. Whether you’re into road bikes or commuting bikes or anything else, over the last 10 years there has been such a huge rise in different manufacturers and designs, it’s just very attractive when you see what’s available. So cycling is something that definitely captures our imagination and it’s something that I think will surely continue to grow.
ML: Finally, which is your personal favourite garment in the Barbour x Brompton range?
IB: It’s got to be the men’s Merton jacket. I’ve got one actually and I’ve got a Barbour Brompton bike on order, too, which should be coming next week. The Merton is a great jacket. It’s not a cheap jacket, it’s a premium level product but we wanted it to be something that you could wear on or off the bike.
It’s got a slight motorcycle feel to it with the angled chest pocket to store your maps in. That’s a Barbour element that stems from the 1940s when the original A7 jacket was designed for motorcycling. The Merton jacket has a nod and a feel of that in terms of the way it looks and its construction. But it’s just a great jacket, it’s really easy to wear, and the sage colour in the Drywax is very flattering, especially as you get a bit older. Now I’m just waiting for the bike to arrive and I’ll be like a complete Brompton advert cycling about South Shields.