Established in 1928, Rita Barber, Inc. is recognized as one of the leading burial garment companies in the nation. Since that time, management of the company has been passed from the founder, Rita Williams Barber, to her son Harwell Barber, and in recent years from Harwell to his son-in-law Lee Hampton. Lee had previously served as Administrative Assistant for the Michigan Funeral Directors Association and as Executive Director for the Texas Funeral Directors Association.
The company’s roots are traced back to 1927, when Rita Barber found herself widowed with an infant son to care for when her husband died unexpectedly. As a bookkeeper and secretary for a funeral home in Stamford, Texas, she observed the drab clothing being “draped” on the deceased and knew she could improve upon its styling, color, and beauty.
She instinctively knew that garments with high necklines and long sleeves made with a generous allotment of fabric to add softness, using lace and other notions to add a touch of beauty and a selection of colors and fabrics to satisfy the family, would fulfill her vision.
After convincing her boss to allow her to make some more attractive clothing, she designed and produced several negligees and gown type dresses which promptly sold. Shortly thereafter, a funeral supply salesman offered to buy material for her to make dresses, which his company would sell. In 1928, Mrs. Barber filled her first “big” order, and the business was launched.
At first Rita did all of the traveling, making sales contacts and taking orders. As the business grew, Rita was able to add sales staff and turn her attention fully to directing production. In 1934 Rita moved the family business into a large house in Abilene, Texas. At the time of this move, the company had customers in sixteen states.
After serving in World War II and graduating from Texas A&M University, Mrs. Barber’s son Harwell joined the business. His career with Rita Barber, Inc. began much the same way his mother’s had—he traveled throughout Texas and from Louisiana to Florida making sales contacts and taking orders. In several years, the sales staff was increased from three to seven, the company was represented in thirty-five states, and the customer base was expanded to a national level.
Harwell’s duties evolved to include directing marketing and sales operations throughout the nation while Rita continued to create new designs and styles. Rita remained actively involved in the business until her death in 1988.
In 1989, Harwell’s son-in-law, Lee Hampton, joined the company as a sales representative for Texas. Lee was soon named National Sales Manager and then became President and CEO of the business in 1991.
The business moved into a modern facility with more than 30,000 square feet in 1991. The need to expand resulted in part from the decision in 1988 to begin producing a line of men’s suits. Men’s suits had been available through the company for many years, however, it was decided that Rita Barber, Inc. would offer a men’s line of burial garments which was equal in quality and workmanship to the women’s line.
Rita Barber also offers its funeral home customers a wide range of accessory products which include: undergarments, hankies, scarves, gloves, jewelry bags, stoles, shoes, rosaries, and crucifixes. These products enable the funeral director to provide a range of dignified options to the families, so together they can create a beautiful and meaningful tribute for their loved ones.
Recognizing the ever increasing preference by consumers for cremation as a means of final disposition led to the company’s decision to add urns, keepsakes and pendants to its product line in recent years.
The company has made several business acquisitions over the years: L.H Freeman of Dallas, Texas; Peerless Suits of California; Royal Garment Company of Ansonia, Ohio; O’Briens of Texas of Mesquite, Texas; and Deluxe Manufacturing of Waco, Texas.
Today, Rita Barber, Inc. has twelve talented and dedicated employees, several of whom have been with the company for many years. Key officers of the Board of Directors and members of management include: Harwell Barber, Chairman of the Board, Lee Hampton, President and CEO; Joy Tichenor, Vice President and office manager; and Carroll Perkins, Production Manager.
Additionally, the company has about eight sales representatives across the country who maintain personal relationships with Rita Barber’s customers, and numerous distributors who represent the company’s products.
Burial clothing from Rita Barber, Inc. compliments both the individual and the casket selection and is available in contemporary and traditional styles. Rita Barber continues to offer a wide selection of styles, fabrics and colors, thus making it possible to order any style dress in almost any color the customer desires. Rita Barber goes the extra mile to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of the customer, so a family’s last memory of a loved one is a beautiful one.