ADVENTURER, HISTORIAN, HORSEMAN, BARRY ARMITAGE RETURNED TO SOUTH AFRICA AFTER ALMOST 15 YEARS WANDERING THE GLOBE AS A PROFESSIONAL SAILOR, INFECTED WITH AN UNQUENCHABLE WANDERLUST AND APPETITE FOR ADVENTURE.
"RESTLESS, CURIOUS AND DARING, BARRY IS ALWAYS LOOKING TO PUSH THE LIMITS OF WHAT IS POSSIBLE"
Passionate about both horses and South African history, Barry and his brother-in-law, close friend and business partner Joe Dawson created the concept of The Ride: a reality television series retracing epic horseback journeys that shaped history. These incredible odysseys included 'The Ride of the Peacemaker' – based on legendary Dick King's epic 10 day, 950 km dash from Durban to Grahamstown; a six-day race from Cape Town to Grahamstown dubbed ‘Chasing the Ghost of Harry Smith’ and Race Across The Steppe. The Race Across The Steppe took The Ride to Mongolia to take part in the Mongol Derby, the world’s longest, toughest horse race; a race based on Chinggis Khaan’s messenger system which operated for centuries through one of the world’s greatest empires. The first of three series aired in South Africa in 2010 and have since screened in over 20 countries around the world.
Five years later and after thousands of kilometres journeying on horseback Barry has developed the skills and the equipment that allow The Ride to deliver some of the longest, toughest horseback expeditions on the planet in the most diverse terrains imaginable.
Restless, curious and daring, Barry is always looking to push the limits of what is possible and the endeavours of The Ride express this in every way. Barry’s life between adventures consists of constant reading, historical research and route planning, and a rigorous fitness regime including boxing, cycling and riding that set the tone for the demanding nature of these horseback expeditions.
"IT IS OFTEN THE KIT WORN ON THESE EQUINE ADVENTURES THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A RIDER’S WILL"
Expeditions include Cape of Storms where you ride from historic Stellenbosch, the winemaking heart of the Cape, to the southern tip of Africa, and spans 320km over 10 riding days; and their longest expedition – the Trans - Tankwa Karoo. Covering a whopping 435km in 13 days; the expedition takes in the imposing majesty of the Cedarberg and the Sutherland plateau to the stark beauty of the Tankwa Karoo desert flatlands.
In 2016, they launch ‘Race The Wild Coast’ – a new breed of horse race where riders, each armed with a team of three horses, compete for victory over 350km of rugged paradise on the remote east coast of South Africa. Every ride conceived by Barry and Dawson, intertwine a deep sense of love and understanding of place with heroic tales of suffering, determination and the will to succeed.
With these remarkable expeditions crossing an assortment of rugged natural landscapes, vegetation and climates, naturally the choice of horse is important (Arabs and Arab crossbreeds are used), as are levels of horsemanship, but it is often the kit worn on these equine adventures that can make or break a rider’s will to carry on.
Fortunately for Barry, his prowess as a horseman teamed with original professional training as a clothing designer and a stint working at Ally Capellino, the British designer of classic men’s and womenswear provided him with the skills and insights to create some bespoke activity specific apparel fit for these epic adventures.
"IT HAD TO DRAW FROM THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE ORIGINAL JEANS"
“The body takes a real hammering on these rides,” points out Barry. “This is where the kit comes into its own. It needs to keep you warm, dry and comfortable for sustained periods of time. But we never wear chaps. We started making jeans locally, but they were terrible and rubbed our legs raw.”
Back to the drawing board then. After taking part in the 2012 Mongol Derby Barry was contacted by KTC, with the offer of a sponsorship deal. Initial conversations over sponsorship led the way to the creation of a range of riding denim incorporating KTC’s pioneering manufacturing methods, meticulous attention to detail and its refusal to be beaten by a performance apparel conundrum.
“When we first started chatting with KTC we were very particular about what we wanted from the product – it had to be riding denim. By this we meant that it had to draw from the iconography of the original jeans (made for working and riding on the back of a horse), but through the integration of technology, and by freshening them up, we wanted to make relevant modern versions that can be worn on a horse, on a bike and on a motorbike.”
They also wanted the range to utilize limited branding and subtle colour options. Barry was initially skeptical about working with the company: “KTC said: ‘Let me send you a box of products to take a look at’. We were broke at the time and he sent us this incredible product – shells worth €1500. We were blown away by all of it. It was a no brainer whether we would work with them.”
"AT THIS LEVEL OF THE MARKET IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CRAFTSMANSHIP, THE LUXURY TECHNICALITY"
Working with KTC Lab a recently established individual development platform for exceptional athletes, teams and brands associated with KTC Limited, they set to taking denim off of the high street and putting it exactly back where it started off – on horseback.
Barry is pretty enthusiastic about their working relationship. It’s easy to understand why: “With KTC it is all about working together and seeing what’s possible. It was always about getting the collection perfect, without exception. We have been in development now for two years. The cost when it’s done is of no consequence, it’s about getting the product right. We said that we didn’t want over-locking, we want taped. Rather than saying ‘I don’t know if we can do that’, they send it down to their tape boffin and the next sample has taping. Their application of technology is second to none.”
Although the jeans form the backbone of the collection, they have incorporated waterproof pants, upper body layering – tech shirts, T-shirts with stand collar and zip (to stop neck getting burnt), soft shell jackets and down puffa jackets to cater for every eventuality on a given journey.
“There’s not a hope in hell that anyone can make anything as good as the products KTC puts out there. KTC had never made jeans before, but they are always looking to achieve and learn. It’s a phenomenal company to work with. And at this level of the market it’s all about the craftsmanship, the luxury technicality – you absolutely have to have it. I have never come across another company with their level of expertise. And they’re all very approachable with it.”