How was the billion-dollar brand Burberry born?

Burberry started out making outdoor gear for soldiers and adventurers, and has since grown to become one of the world's largest luxury brands.

Burberry is a fashion brand founded by Thomas Burberry. The company is headquartered in London (UK), has more than 400 stores globally, with annual sales of over £2 billion.

Thomas Burberry was born in 1835 into an ordinary family in Surry (England). As a teenager, he apprenticed in a cloth shop and always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

At the age of 21, Burberry opened his first store in Hampshire under the name T. Burberry and Sons. His early designs were influenced by the costumes of the local people. After that, he focused more on outdoor wear for regular customers, including locals, tourists and athletes.

Thomas Burberry pioneered the creation of gabardine woven fabric in 1879. This fabric was produced from Egyptian cotton, but using a new weaving method. In addition to being water resistant, it is also very durable. In 1888, he filed a patent for this invention.

The early T. Burberry and Sons store. Photo: Hampshire Live

By 1891, the business was so successful that Thomas opened more stores across England, from London, Reading, Manchester, Liverpool to Winchester. They even opened facilities abroad, in Paris, New York and Buenos Aires.

In 1900, the British army asked Thomas Burberry to create a cloak to replace the old and heavy jacket. So he designed a thin cotton jacket, with shoulder straps, leather buckles at the wrists, a button-down bodice on one shoulder, and a belt.

He then continued to edit the design. This military shirt gradually evolved into the company's trademark Trench Coat. This product was so popular that it turned into everyday fashion after the war ended.

Burberry became famous when it began advertising a new product made from gabardine in June 1904. Thanks to its water resistance, this fabric quickly gained popularity due to its suitability as a winter coat.

After Trench Coat, its equestrian logo and black, beige and red plaid pattern continued to be copyrighted in the 20s, to distinguish Burberry from imitation brands. This logo was used until the mid 90s.

Burberry's success is also attributed to the founder's marketing talent. Thomas Burberry knows how to successfully leverage the effects of advertising and copyright registration. When he opened the Burberry store in Haymarket (London) in 1891, he sought to attract customers by using illustrated posters and eye-catching slogans.

Thomas also understood the cost of being represented. He contacted many famous people of the time such as Lord Kitchener and Lord Baden-Powell to wear Burberry clothes. This has increased the reputation of the brand. The brand's jackets also appeared on TV in the '50s, when worn by celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Humphrey Bogart.

Emperor Edward (England) also contributed to Burberry's popularity in 1917, when he publicly asked to wear a gabardine jacket. He was one of the first members of the royal family to use this material. Since then, a number of celebrities have become loyal customers of this fashion house, from Winston Churchill, Joan Crawford, Ronald Reagan to George HW Bush.

Thomas Burberry left the company in 1917. In 1920, the company listed on the London Stock Exchange. His two sons became co-directors.

Thomas Burberry died in 1926 at the age of 91. Burberry then continued to be a family business until 1955, when it was acquired by retailer GUS (UK). In 2005, the company split again and still maintains its position as one of the world's leading luxury fashion brands.

Like other companies, Burberry's sales have plummeted during the pandemic. In the last weeks of March 2020, this airline's revenue dropped by up to 80%, because stores had to close after the blockade order.

However, their business recovered very quickly. In September 2021, Burberry released six-month figures showing sales had returned to pre-pandemic levels of £1.2 billion, mainly from the US and Asian markets.

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