When it comes to men’s fashion in New Zealand, Barkers is a brand that jumps quickly to mind. For 47 years, Barkers has maintained a pivotal position in dressing kiwi men. Taking the reins as Managing Director in 2010, Jamie Whiting has continued to develop the brand, which has gone from strength to strength. Zara Overton spoke with Whiting about all things Barkers, and how they’ve kept up with continually changing retail environment.
N. The Barkers story began an impressive 47 years ago with the opening the first store in Auckland’s High Street in 1972. Can you tell us about the brand’s evolution?
JW. Barkers has had a reputation as a “go to” for men’s fashion from right when Ray Barker founded the business back in 1972. Throughout the decades Barkers has continued to evolve and reinvent itself numerous times to stay current and relevant, which has been key to its success. In the 70’s it was flares and loud print shirts, in the 80’s and 90’s it was the infamous “Barkers trackies” era, and today we have evolved into a true lifestyle brand. We are very proud of Barkers heritage and whilst we continually push forward there are certain things that stay constant, being our focus on high quality, great products and exceptional personal service.
N. Since taking the reins as Barkers Managing Director in 2010, you have overseen a number of significant refreshes in many aspects of the business, from the production to the people. What drove these changes?
JW. We have a relentless vision for being the best men’s lifestyle fashion brand, and to be as good as any brand on the planet. This relentless drive means we are continually innovating across all levels of our business. Not to mention, the world and the industry is moving at such a rapid pace, that we need to ensure we are keeping up or ahead of the industry leaders in our field.
N.Your retail career has gone from strength to strength, working your way up from the shop floor at Hallensteins from the age of 17 to senior roles at Hallensteins, Glassons and Max, and now Barkers. What initially attracted you to retail?
JW.To be honest I really started in retail as a “filler” job as I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do as a career. Once I got into retail, I really enjoyed it – but the role that was a game changer for me was becoming a Buyer. I really loved this role as it is so broad being involved in product design, manufacturing / supply chain, leadership and people management. From here there was no turning back as I love the fast- paced, dynamic and challenging world of retail – 27 years later I’m still doing it!
N.Who is the Barkers customer?
JW. We don’t define our customer by age – a Barkers guy is anyone who loves style and great quality.
They like to look sharp and be current with trends, but not necessarily concerned with “fast fashion”.
N. Can you tell us about your Newmarket store, and the concept behind the fit-out for the Barkers Chop Shop?
JW. The heritage of the building was an old garage, so we combined the history of the building with the passion that a number of the Barkers team have with motorcyles, and our close relationship with BMW & Triumph Motorcyles New Zealand made it an obvious fit for a very cool store concept. Chuck in a Barber shop and it’s a pretty rock n roll space!
N. Barkers have become known for their well designed and carefully thought out retail environments, each of which are tailored to the region that they’re in. What is the process that goes into the store fit-outs and themes for these?
JW. It is a really collaborative process where our internal team, our architects and brand agency brainstorm themes and concepts that we think are cool, and where possible we anchor that theme to something that resonates with the local area and is relevant to our brand.
N.The Barkers’ Groom Room has brought the barber experience into Barkers flagship stores across the country. What made you combine the Groom Room concept within the stores?
JW.We define ourselves as a lifestyle brand, and therefore wanted to go beyond just being a clothing store, and bring a real experience and service aspect to the brand that was beyond the wardrobe. Our mission is to provide guys with “Effortless Style”- so combining grooming with outfitting a guys wardrobe seemed like a great brand experience.
N. How do you manage such a large team of staff?
JW. We have an amazing team and work really hard on creating a great culture which is key to leading a large team. Having the best leaders, hiring great people, setting clear standards and expectations then letting the team get on with it means less “managing”, more autonomy and gets better results.
N.If you could dress any man in the world, who would it be?
JW. Brandon Flowers from The Killers – one of my favorite bands, and he’s got style to boot.
N. You once wrote an article on The Spinoff, ‘How to make men like shopping’ – did you find the magic answer?
JW. There is no magic answer you just need to offer incredible service, great product, and exceed customer expectations.
N.What do you think are the five key items for a men’s capsule wardrobe?
JW. 1. A good blazer for when you need to sharpen up (navy or a neutral always a good bet).
2. A great pair of jeans that fit well (darker wash or raw denim best as more versitle to dress up and down).
3. A crisp white shirt – I would go with an Oxford button down.
4.A high quality Merino knit
5.A good pair of shoes – go with some wing tips or brogues if you want a dressier look otherwise I love a good pair of Allbirds when going casual!
N.In what is becoming a challenging and more competitive retail environment, especially for bricks and mortar stores, how has Barkers adapted to an increasingly digital age?
JW.For us, we have the attitude that the digital age is just changing the way in which customers interact with our brand, and therefore we have to deliver the experiences and services they expect – whether that’s online or in a store. Investment in digital solutions is as important as investing in store environments, and we accept that, which means we just get on and deliver on those expectations.
N. The bespoke Barkers service offering which includes made-to-measure suit fitting, a coffee shop, and barbershop, has created an elevated sensory experience for customers, who value customer service. How important are these instore brand experiences?
JW. Customer experience is a very important aspect of engagement with a brand. We are seeing more use of bricks and mortar space being used to enhance and deliver great customer experiences, which is where we see the merging of digitial and physical aspects of the brand coming together to deliver more personalised and convenient products and services.
N. What are some of the upcoming menswear trends that we can expect to see in store?
JW. For summer there is a big focus on natural fabrics like linen, hemp, ramie and cotton, as well as bold colour and prints making a strong statement for the season. There is also a growing trend toward more functional, technical and performance aspects of fashion garments that was once reserved for the more outdoor / active market.
N.Do you have an all-time favourite item/ piece of clothing from Barkers?
JW.There isn’t 1 specific item – but for me it’s Barkers Merino knitwear. I LOVE wool as a fibre, and the technical and performance aspects of it. Long gone are the days of old scratchy, heavy wool garments. Today we are using superfine, soft Merino fibre which is the ultimate in comfort and performance – it keeps you warm when cold, cool when warm, doesn’t crease easily and is antibacterial. It looks as good under a suit jacket or blazer as it does with a T-shirt & jeans.
N.Can you tell us what Barkers are doing in the environment and ethical sustainability space?
JW.A huge amount, in fact too much to cover in this interview. This is a very serious and passionate strategic focus which covers nearly every aspect of our business, which we have been quietly doing an enormous amount on behind the scenes. A number of these initiatives will become more public-facing over the coming year, so keep an eye out on our website, emails or in store to see what we are up to.
N.How have blogging and social media changed the way you work?
JW. Social media channels have become a great way to become more directly engaged with our audience, and in a more personal way than other communication channels. It enables direct conversations with engaged customers and more and more we see customers using it as a channel to feedback things they love, and things they don’t – which enables us to take the feedback on board and where relevant, act on it. The downside – there is a huge amount more work in creating ongoing engaging content and managing the channels, however it’s worth the effort.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?
JW.Ideally, it’s a sunny summers morning and im heading out for a dive and a fish! Most likely heading out to the park or a beach with the kids and the dog for a good run around.
N. What do you love most about Newmarket?
JW. It’s all there – great fashion retail, great restaurants and soon to be what looks like a very impressive shopping centre.
N.What are you reading at the moment?
JW.Cradle to Cradle (Remaking the Way We Make Things) by Michael Braungart and William McDonough. Its about transitioning from the old “cradle to grave” churn and burn linear economy into a future circular economy. Fascinating read.
N.What’s next for Barkers?
JW.Keep moving, changing and growing. There is no time to sit still and smell the roses in this industry!
29 Nuffield Street
@barkersclothing 09 524 8846