NEW YORK — Barbour has lofty goals.
“We want to be the best British lifestyle brand globally by 2020,” said Helen Barbour, vice chairman and fifth generation of the founding family of the 122-year-old U.K. brand.
Admitting that was an ambitious plan, she said. “Yes, but it’s achievable.”
On Thursday, J. Barbour & Sons made a move to raise its profile by introducing actor Sam Heughan as its first global brand ambassador. Heughan, best known for his role as Jamie Fraser on the Starz series “Outlander,” will appear in the company’s advertising and marketing materials and will also work with the brand on a capsule collection for next fall.
“It’s great to have him on board,” Barbour said of the Scottish actor, who was actually born and raised in the same small, rural town where the brand’s founder, John Barbour, had his farm. “He’s not just a face, he was perfect for the role,” she added. “He’s a proper Scotsman and fits the brand perfectly.”
Barbour met Heughan last year at the Tartan Day Parade in New York City where he was grand marshal, and the two struck up a friendship. So Barbour brought him on board to be the face of the company’s shirts, which are available at Bloomingdale’s, as well as its tartan range.
Barbour said that the capsule collection, Barbour x Sam Heughan, is still in the early planning stages but will be sold at the company’s own stores as well as wholesaled when it’s introduced next year.
In the U.S., Barbour currently operates 11 full-price stores and the country is its second largest market after the U.K. “We have a really big operation here,” she said. “And Tom [Hooven, general manager of the U.S. division] has been really instrumental in driving the company forward. Our range of customers is quite diverse here.”
In addition to the capsule with Heughan, 2017 will also mark the entry of Barbour into e-commerce. Although it has a website, browsers are instead directed to retail stores to purchase product.
Barbour said that although the brand is best known for its outerwear and men’s wear, women’s is gaining in importance. “More men wore it because of the kind of clothes we made, but we’ve really grown our range in response to the market and become very much of a ladies fashion brand too,” she said. “We place equal importance on both.”
This month, Barbour introduced the Timeless Originals Women’s Heritage Collection at Bloomingdale’s, two capsules centered around outerwear that feature slimmer, edgier silhouettes.
In addition to Bloomingdale’s, Barbour also sells its line at Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor as well as its own stores in the U.S. There are no plans to add any other Barbour stores in the country, she said.
While the capsule is updated, its roots are firmly planted in the heritage of the brand. The company’s designers use its extensive archives for inspiration and update the looks to appeal to a modern customer. During London Collections: Men this past season, the brand unveiled a collaboration with Selfridges updating and adapting six archive pieces.
The archives were a treasure trove for Heughan as well, particularly as he began to work on the capsule.
“I never would have imagined I’d be involved in this sort of thing,” he said with a laugh, “but I know what I like and I think I’m creative. I sat down and went through the archives — they have these great archives that date back to when they started. There are jackets that still look no different that are from the early 1900s.”
He said he sat with the design team, “talked about the materials and what we liked, the purpose and functionality of it. There’s a great fashion sense, but what it comes down to is that these jackets are about functionality.”
He said the line will be primarily for men with a small component for women and will include “a little of everything,” jackets, gilets, etc. “I saw the prototypes yesterday and I’m really excited,” he said.
Although he pooh-poohed the idea that he was a “designer,” he said, “it was great to have a say.”
He said that before being named the brand ambassador, he was a fan of the brand.
“Barbour in Scotland is very well-known,” he said. “I come from rural Scotland, born and raised on the grounds of an old castle with a working farm. The shepherds there would wear the Barbour and if you went fishing, you’d wear your Barbour jacket. It’s practical and waterproof and comfortable. It’s always been part of my life. So there’s a great connection. And right now where they’re situated, South Shields in the north of England, I have family there, so it’s like this weird symmetry. It feels really natural, nothing is forced. They’re a great family with great heritage and craftsmanship. And it’s very British.”
Beyond his association with Barbour, Heughan said he just started shooting the third season of “Outlander” with 11 episodes left to do. “It feels like a very strong season, it’s coming together. The story is really easier to adapt from the book. The second season was tricky. This feels like everyone’s favorite.”
In addition, he’s been active in My Peak Challenge, a charity he founded two years ago to raise money for blood cancer research. “Last year, we created a workout series online with profits going to leukemia and lymphoma. We raised over 300,000 pounds, and this year, we’re setting a target to beat that. I’m going to launch it in January. It’s great; we have thousands of followers. It’s a healthy lifestyle challenge to just dig yourself out of your comfort zone. In fact, some of the fans here today are wearing the T-shirts,” he added, pointing to the dozens of young girls lined up outside the Barbour store for a chance to meet him.
Heughan himself is always up for a challenge. A fan of CrossFit, mountain climbing, triathlons and running, he participated in a race in England last weekend that had a poignant ending. “I ran a half-marathon in New Castle that ended in South Shields,” he said. “As you approach the finish line, you see the South Shields beacon, the lighthouse, that Barbour uses on most of their products. And I said, ‘There it is, that’s amazing.’ ”