50 Years of Barkers

In our most recent issue, Together Journal features Barkers, one of the most renowned names in New Zealand’s menswear scene, as it celebrates its 50th year in the business.

The year is 1972. Intel invents the single-chip micro-processor, the Watergate scandal erupts and in Sweden, ABBA is born. When the world isn’t humming along to the song of the year, Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, they’re watching The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure at the cinema. But in a small corner of Auckland, a revolution is taking place. Having seen bored men shopping with their partners, Ray Barker wonders why women should have all the fun.

So the plucky entrepreneur, who’s only 24 years old, decides to open a shop on the corner of High Street and Victoria Street, one of the first New Zealand stores dedicated solely to men’s fashion. Raymond’s, as it was called, is a pretty modest affair, specialising in the bright patterns, enormous collars and voluminous bell-bottoms of the era.

Fast forward a few years and the store has morphed into Barkers, which over the last 50 years has grown to become one of Aotearoa’s most recognised and well-respected menswear brands.

Ray sold his eponymous brand in the early 2000s and in 2006 it again changed hands, this time to current owners Jamie Whiting and Glenn Cracknell.

While it was an easy decision to take on the company, what wasn’t so simple was redefining its direction and brand, not to mention shaping its 30+ stores across the country into the successful retail outlets they are today.

“When we came on, the golden age of Barkers appeared to have been a thing of the past,” says Jamie, who is now Group Managing Director of Barkers/Max. “The colour, the style, the quality — it all felt tired and below where it should have been. This brand was iconic, with a history as rich and renowned as any in the New Zealand menswear scene, yet since Ray Barker sold the company it had clearly lost its way.”

In fact, Jamie would go so far as to say “the company had forgotten its past — it even seemed embarrassed by it”. In order to move forward, Jamie looked back — to Ray Barker. “I spent time with Ray to learn about how the brand was born and how we could create a new vision and reposition it.”

That included running the lens over every aspect of the business, from the fabrics used and design silhouettes, to the colours and suppliers who could partner with Barkers to redefine the definition of quality apparel.

It also included steering the good ship Barkers in the direction of sustainability and aligning the business with eco and ethical best practice principles.

“We changed the business to being more sustainably-led, which ranges from the fabrics we use and the partners we source from, to how garments are made, and the way our stores operate.” That includes, for example, opting for responsibly sourced natural fibres such as 100% organic cotton, wool, French linen and merino, which comprise around 96% of Barker’s fabric range.

“Not only do natural fibres look and feel better, they are also renewable and biodegradable. Natural textiles are far better for the environment than synthetics which are derived from petrochemicals.”

It also includes using high quality traceable, ZQRX merino for all Barkers suiting range, which can be traced back to its source. And using Perino – an innovative yarn that combines possum fur, merino and silk to create the softest knitwear.

A key component of the Barkers range is denim, a product traditionally known for its wasteful an environmentally unfriendly production methods. Jamie says Barkers spent some time researching a more sustainable alternative, eventually finding Saitex, a Vietnamese company that has been dubbed ‘the most environmental producer of jeans in the world’, thanks to its production methods which reduce the use of water, energy, and chemicals. Saitex now produces all of Barkers’ Japanese eco denim.

Planning Barkers’ 50th anniversary celebrations was, admits Jamie, a good chance to look through the archives to see where the company has been, and to track its progress. Especially in design terms.

“It’s interesting to see how often we do dip into the archives to refine our designs. For example, everyone knows Barkers baggy trackies, which were iconic in the 90s. We still do them but now the fit is much slimmer and they’re made from 100% organic cotton.”

Ditto Ray Barker’s iconic paisley shirts which once sprouted wide collars. That has now been distilled into a more tailored, fitted shirt.

Ask Jamie where he sees the market heading and he’ll point to a global shift towards smarter dressing, including at weddings.

“After the pandemic, people globally have been embracing going out and dressing up. And enjoying dressing up, even if that’s just a blazer with jeans.”

It could be why Barkers is struggling to keep up with demand for its classic black, charcoal and navy suits.

When it comes to weddings, Jamie says the company’s made-to-measure suiting service, which is available at Barkers’ Ponsonby and High Street stores in Auckland, as well as at Wellington’s Lambton Quay store, is an increasingly popular choice for grooms.

“It’s a chance to talk to staff about your style and what you’re after, so that you can look great and feel comfortable on the day, but also have a bespoke investment piece that will last you a long time.”

Jamie says grooms are increasingly inspired by what they see in magazines such as Together Journal, and will seek out ways to incorporate popular looks into their own wedding days.

“Everyone is different in terms of wanting an off-the-rack suit or a made-to-measure. But whatever grooms choose, Barkers is committed to providing quality, sustainably and ethically made garments that continue the legacy started by Ray Barker in 1972.”

Learn more about Barkers by visiting their website HERE or following them on Instagram HERE.