A third-generation Somerset-based sheepskin and leather business continues to make its mark in today’s fickle fashion industry, with new deals in the US and South Korea.
Founded by Owen Barry in 1948, the self-named company is now managed by his daughter and granddaughter Cindi and Chas. The company produces a range of handmade leather, suede and cowhide handbags and accessories.
The new opportunity in the US will see Owen Barry products sold in six major stores including Anthropologie and Orvis, whilst the South Korea deal will see the company’s merchandise sold in five department stores across the country.
Owen Barry Managing Director Cindi Barnstable said: “Although we are quite experienced exporters, it is always exciting when our products enter new countries, or we expand our presence in existing markets.
“It has been quite a tricky time for us, as I imagine it has been for other SMEs across the UK, but our online and international sales have managed to keep us afloat.
“Our International Trade Advisor at the Department for International Trade has been a great supporter and mentor. She has introduced us to various opportunities, such as funding and trade shows, and has kept us abreast of anything that could potentially impact our business.”
The company started exploring international opportunities in the 1980s when its major domestic buyers started resourcing goods from import suppliers at lower prices which Owen Barry could not compete with.
The leather specialist managed to secure an opportunity in North America at the time after joining a trade mission to the region organised by the Department for International Trade (DIT), formerly known as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Today Owen Barry products are sold all over the world in countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia, with exports now making up 60% of its annual turnover.
Paul Shand, DIT’s Head of Trade in the South West, said: “Owen Barry is a niche family-run business and yet a very successful exporter showing that there is demand for unique, high quality UK products overseas. I would encourage other businesses that are considering international trade for the first time, or looking to increase its international footprint, to get in touch. We have a dedicated team of International Trade Advisers based in every region and specialists in 109 countries worldwide.”
During lockdown, Owen Barry expanded its production to include hand-made leather face masks, free ‘Kids Kraft Kits’ to keep children entertained at home, and the ’50:50:50 Bag’ with 50% of the proceeds going to Coronavirus related causes.
The company continues to grow internationally whilst the total exports of handbags from the UK amounted to £235.7 million last year. The US was a key market with exports totalling £17.7 million, an increase of 7.1% on 2018. The South West’s economy is expected to grow by up to £284 million as a result of a future UK-US free trade agreement.