Taking their inspiration from windswept islands, peaty moors, clear springs and jagged hills, the worldwide love affair with all things Scottish shows no sign of waning, says Emma Johnson.
Inspired by windswept islands, peaty moors, clear springs and jagged hills, our love affair with all things Scottish shows no sign of waning.
THERE IS PERHAPS nowhere whose landscape has lent itself so definitively to its country’s products and branding, than Scotland. Wild, beautiful, unspoilt, rich in raw materials and quality produce, it is a beguiling country and one whose identity is infused with so many of its popular exports. “The Hebridean Islands are a magical place where the weather can change dramatically in a very short space of time but there is a rustic, dramatic beauty to the landscape and an integrity and grace to its people,” says Mark Hogarth, creative director at Harris Tweed Hebrides, whose connection to his landscape and local community is paramount. “There is a near soulful relationship between the landscape here, the people and the ‘clo mor’ (Gaelic for ‘big cloth’),” he adds. “We respect Scotland’s manufacturing history enormously,” continues Alec Farmer, founder of niche backpack brand Trakke, a luxury outdoor lifestyle manufacturer based in Glasgow. “Which is why we’re so proud to use Scottish waxed canvas as the primary material in our bags. It communicates a sense of place, and provenance, while also supporting local manufacturing. All of these are fundamentally important to us.”
For many brands today, their Scottish origins are central to their very identity. Renowned designer Christopher Kane continues to evoke everything from tartan mini-kilts to oversized jumpers featuring the distinctive Lion Rampant of Scotland in his latest collections, while, in contrast, Louise Gray designs bold colourful pieces to counteract the darkness of a Scottish winter: “The Scottish winter can be really depressing. When I close my eyes, I see everything in colour,” she told The Scotsman. Samantha Mccoach, founder of Le Kilt, proudly evokes her Scottish heritage by creating pieces that celebrate and honour the timeless Scottish tartan in a variety of colours and cuts, while Kirsteen Stewart, who is based in Orkney and grew up in Kirkwall, is inspired by her local landscape and the experience of island living. “From the dramatic open skies, ragged coastlines and the ceaseless motion of the seascapes, to the graphic lines of maps and the movement of lights seen with frequent travel to the mainland,” she says. Stewart designs colourful, dynamic prints both by hand and digitally, playing with scale, texture and motion
For Scottish brands, the landscape, the weather, the culture is infused in nearly everything they do. Based on the Isle of Bute, off the west coast of Scotland, and founded in 1947 by the fifth Marquess of Bute, with the sole purpose of providing employment opportunities for service people returning home from the Second World War, Bute Fabrics also has an intrinsically Scottish identity. One of the brand’s most renowned collections is its original tweed fabric with visible flecks on the yarn, while it has also been working with local farmers in the hope of incorporating local Bute fleece into some of its upcoming fabrics “The notion of provenance and our location is really important to our brand,” says senior designer Kirsty Neil. “Our history is intrinsic to our location. We try to bring many of our clients to Bute for a visit, to give them an insight into our working mill and the landscape around us which is a constant source of inspiration.” For backpack brand Trakke, however, it was actually Scottish materials that established the brand’s USP. “With the decision to focus on waxed canvas everything fell into place,” explains founder Alec Farmer. Weatherproof, quintessentially Scottish, having been invented by Scottish fishermen over 150 years ago and manufactured in the same location in Dundee, Scotland, for generations, waxed cloth is an integral part of the story of Scottish manufacturing. “Being a Scottish brand matters to us, because it’s woven into every thread of the bags. It’s a part of the broader narrative of the company - Trakke was born from a desire to have bags that can cope with whatever this beautiful country can (and will!) throw at you.” Perhaps, though, there is no more important sense of place in a product than in Scotch whisky, which has always been a stalwart of Scottish exports. In Islay, an island off the coast of Scotland, Laphroaig has been crafting single malt Scotch whisky for over 200 years. Laphroaig - which translates to ‘the beautiful hollow by the broad bay’ - benefits from being produced on land next to ocean water which gives it its unique, peaty taste and boasts a Royal Warrant from HRH Prince Charles. It is also one of only a few distilleries that still uses traditional malting floors and dries and infuses its own malt with the thick blue smoke from old peat-fired kilns at their distillery in Islay. Simon Brooking, Scotch ambassador at Laphroaig, explains why Laphroaig whisky has such an important identity. “Laphroaig’s unmistakable flavour is a direct reflection of its origin. From the salty brine of the seawater and ocean breeze, to the earthy-smokiness from the malted barley dried over a peat fire from our several-thousand-year-old bogs, the characteristics of Islay’s unique geographical elements are reflected in every bottle.”
TWEED & TWINSETS
For other brands, the Scottish name is so important it features on everything they make. Pringle of Scotland is a 200-year-old brand whose knitwear, twinsets, cardigans and argyle sweaters have clothed everyone from royalty to Hollywood icons, including Joan Crawford, Margot Fonteyn and Grace Kelly, but whose origins still lie in the unassuming town of Hawick. Considered one of the oldest luxury fashion brands in the world, Pringle of Scotland is renowned for its cashmere, its Intarsia argyle pattern and its distinctive ‘Pringle’ lion and remains a vital part of the Scottish fashion world to this day. Another An of Scotland’s famous exports which whic owes its origins to its landscape is Harris Ha Tweed, which nearly died out in theth 1980s, when it fell out of favour with the fashion industry, but was saved from extinction by an Act of Parliament designed to ensure its survival. Today it is produced by several expert companies, all based in Scotland, including Harris Tweed Hebrides. All the company’s wool is scoured and graded in the borders of Scotland, while local skills and craftsmen and women are used to turn the wool into yarn and the yarn into tweed. Mark Hogarth recalls the time when mainstream fashion houses started to return to tweed. “It was exciting to secure customers like Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana, because this reasserted the status of Harris Tweed as a luxury product.” But, as Hogarth explains, location isn’t everything, and there has to be a creative and dynamic force behind driving Scottish brands into a global market. “The embers of the Scottish textile industry are being helped by the strong design and marketing skills of successful companies like Walker Slater and Johnstons of Elgin,” says Hogarth. “With a continued commitment to craft and graft we feel that there is a bright future for us, and companies like us.”
Walker Slater is an excellent tailoring firm based in Edinburgh who has designed suits for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, while Johnstons of Elgin, is a historical family business with a fashion-forward name, which expertly straddles the divide between heritage and modern icon. Earlier this year, the brand presented at London Fashion Week for the first time. “Every fibre, colour, weave structure, knit technology, stitch has been lovingly created in Scotland from scratch,” explains creative director Alan Scott. In the two centuries following its establishment in 1797, just two families – the Johnstons and the Harrisons, have owned Johnstons of Elgin. It is one of the last few vertical mills in the UK still carrying out all the processes from raw cashmere and fine woollen fibres, right through to the finished product, and the company’s mills in Elgin and Hawick employ over 1000 people. “Our story is one of a family-run business
‟Being a Scottish brand matters to us, because it’s woven into every thread of the bags”
spanning two centuries of tradition and expertise, and originates and remains in the heart of Scotland,” adds Scott. Family businesses have always been important when you’re considering heritage names, and Walkers Shortbread is one family that has over a century of experience behind it. Founded in 1898 in the picturesque village of Aberlour, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Walkers Shortbread is still made by traditional methods, using the original 120-year-old Walker family recipe. Its distinctive red tartan packaging has made it recognisable across the world, it has a Royal Warrant, and has been awarded the Queen’s Award to Industry for Export Achievement four times.. “We believe that in a competitive market, being Scottish is a certainly an advantage,” says managing director Jim Walker. “Scotland has a reputation for clean fresh air, pure water, beautiful surrounds and conscientious people. Our provenance is also vitally important - virtually all of our raw materials are from the UK and we always source close to home.”
Working with local craftsmen and women and supporting the ancient mills is an incredibly important part of being a Scottish brand. The mills at one of Britain’s most successful modern cashmere brands, Brora, were established over 200 years ago and have been employing local Scottish families for generations. To this day, the mills make all the company’s cashmere – from dyeing and spinning to weaving and knitting – which are sold through their stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, London and New York. Victoria Stapleton, founder and creative director of Brora, said: “Brora is not about fast fashion. The Scottish mills are extremely special and the processes they painstakingly go through to produce each cashmere design is extraordinary. We are still small enough to deal with our Scottish mills personally and have built an outstanding relationship with them.” Alex Farmer at Trakke agrees that it is important for brands to make sure they are doing more than just benefitting from Scotland’s history and reputation, and that they’re giving something back. “We feel that by hiring a Scottish workforce, and using Scottish materials, it’s an opportunity for us to reinvest in a country that has offered us so much.” Crucially, though, it must be the product that speaks for itself, for even the most iconic of Scottish branding must be backed up by quality. “Scottish identity is an asset, but woe betide the company who thinks that they can wrap their product in tartan and think it will sell – it’s what's inside the pack that really counts,” adds Jim Walker.
‟Brora is not about fast fashion. The Scottish mills are extremely special”
Pictured above-left to bottom-right: Trakke workshop in the heart of Glasgow; Model wears Brora's Cashmere Skinny Rib Jumper, priced £289
Pictured above left-below left: Model wears cashmere hoody new in at Brora, priced £349; Model wears Linton Boucle Button Mini dress Snow White, Le Kilt, priced £770; Walkers shortbread biscuits