Barkers – dedicated purveyor of fashion

Ray Barker has seen many a fashion faux pas among Kiwi men in his time. But the ultimate Kiwi fashion crime has been stubbies.

“Non-fashionable,” he says seriously.

“Good for the farm and that’s it.”

Today marks 40 years since Mr Barker opened his first retail store, then called Raymond’s, on the corner of High and Victoria Sts in the Auckland CBD.

The then 25-year-old had just returned from his OE in Britain and decided to step away from the family plumbing business to follow his dream career in fashion.

“I went for two reasons – to see if there was an opportunity to work in the clothing industry or rag trade and also to play some rugby. I managed to do both.”

He took on a job with Burton Tailoring, a company that specialised in menswear and had around 300 stores throughout Britain.

It was his time there that gave him the experience and the push to want to get into the industry, he says.

“It gave me a really good grounding in men’s clothing – particularly suits and jackets and trousers and shirts. It wasn’t really a fashion store, but I learned all the basics there.

“While I was there, I used to spend a lot of time in King’s Road, Chelsea, which was really the fashion strip in those days. I used to buy quite a few clothes while I was there.”

After Mr Barker opened that first store, the Barkers label quickly grew into one of the country’s best-known and respected menswear labels.

While looking after the business, he also married wife Billie and had two children, Anna and Kiwi yachtsman Dean – who his dad says is a loyal wearer of the label.

Mr Barker said there had been many changes during his time – not only in fashion, but in Kiwi men.

“The interesting thing was that when I first started, New Zealand men weren’t that fashionable. They found it hard to get into fashion.

“Now, I think New Zealand guys will wear anything. They’ve very aware of what’s fashionable and what they like.”

One of the most memorable items of clothing that proved to be a hit were the Barkers signature baggy track pants sold in the 90s. The pants, priced at $115, were popular with men and women and more than 50,000 pairs were sold around the country.

Mr Barker said although Kiwi men’s tastes adjusted, there has always been one rule they have followed.

“Bright colours – Kiwi men don’t like bright colours.”

By Vaimoana Tapaleao
| Email Vaimoana

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