Owen Barry was founded in Street in 1948 and the company has been producing sheepskin and leather products from its traditional workshops ever since. Cindi Barnstable, Mr Barry’s daughter, now heads up the company with her daughter, and she couldn’t be prouder of her family business.
Cindi: “The company was founded by its namesake, my father Owen Barry in 1948. However, my daughter Chas (28-years-old and my co-director) is fifth-generation Barry family, involved with leather tanning and manufacture. Originally my great-grandfather had a tannery in Wiltshire, and my grandfather ran this tannery based on this site in the early 1900s.”
Owen Barry has been making bags for approaching 15 years, and that is what it is best known for in the UK. However, globally the brand is equally recognised for its sheepskin clothing and accessories, and the lifestyle side of the business.
Cindi: “Everything is hand cut and made in Street, Somerset, as it has been for 70 years. We have a team of 36 skilled staff each with an average of 12 years’ service. We choose especially selected British and European skins. The trimmings have also been sourced and commissioned from environmentally friendly resources close to home; the inherent quality, timeless styling and love in every bag just shines through.”
Cindi says that the company takes “great pride” in producing beautifully crafted sheepskin, leather, suede, and cowhide accessories, handbags, and lifestyle products. She says a constantly evolving collection, ensures that Owen Barry is “always distinctively different”.
Cindi: “I think the love affair is and always has been (for both me and my father) more with manufacturing and our team of skilled staff – our raison d’etre has always been to create beautiful products and keep the traditional skills alive. By doing that, the process of designing and creating just evolves. I am told our products are distinctively different because of the quality, craftsmanship, and our inherent knowledge of leather. We don’t realise how these factors set us apart, but I am glad that they do. And we offer a lifetime, ‘no quibble’ full repair or replacement guarantee. Our friendly attitude to this and all aspects of customer service is what seems to really set us apart.”
Owen Barry’s award-winning handbag collection comprises of over 50 design silhouettes, from relaxed unstructured styling to high fashion, with 8,000+ skin combinations available. So does Cindi have a favourite?
Cindi: “No, not really. It’s very clichéd but, like your kids, you love them equally. What I do get excited by are new skins, leathers, and colours. I guess that is my tanning heritage coming through! And we commission many skins exclusively for Owen Barry. That process is very exciting and rewarding because beautiful skins make beautiful products – fact.”
As well as selling via the Owen Barry website, the company’s products are also available through local independent stockists. And Cindi says that this is important.
Cindi: “These retailers are able to offer both customer service and very individual bags, together with the bespoke service many customers like. Having a handbag made to your specific choice of colours and skins at no extra cost is very tempting. It is great to know you will be possibly the only person with that combination in your area , and conceivably the world! Plus Sarah, our customer service manageress, will personally send swatches out and help get the perfect bag for each customer.”
And the company has taken to crowdfunding in a bid to raise £20,000 to launch a new ‘one-of-a-kind’ product.
Cindi: “Kickstarter is a new project that we have recently launched. Our Somerset-made product is supplying a brand new market for us, in this the techy world. We have designed and created a selection of iPad and MacBook cases that are cut exclusively from British sheepskin. The properties of this skin means the case protects your device and looks beautiful, as well as being eco-friendly and a by-product of the food industry. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. We have launched through a crowdfunding platform as we hope this will introduce Owen Barry to a new customer base.”
Cindi’s passion for her heritage and her products is clear, but why is Somerset so special?
Cindi: “I have travelled the world with my business and please believe me, there is absolutely nowhere on earth better than Somerset. I guess ultimately that comes from the people – we don’t take ourselves too seriously. If you can laugh, you are blessed, and Somerset people will always make you smile.”
Owen Barry’s Kickstarter campaign is aiming to reach £20,000 and runs until 08:15am on 13