Last month we took part in a fascinating project where we welcomed students to the mill. It was all about inspiring awareness of respectful tartan making and passing it on to younger generations, to make a difference in our industry. It was titled ‘Give Back Credit’, and this has sparked reflections from us. What does giving credit to a heritage community look like? Researching? Celebrating? Are these ironic in 2021’s world?
As Highland tartan makers we’re used to seeing the commodification of our craft, and collaterally, our culture. We see big fashion labels recreate Highland aesthetics in their collections, deeming that it’s a celebration of the culture; an ode to what it represents due to our people’s difficult past. The symbolism is powerful, so we understand how people with big platforms shining light on it can have positive effects (in theory).
But from our experience admiration is not enough. Not in this world we live in. It doesn’t pay the bills. We need money for that, and money comes from companies who want to ‘celebrate’ Scottish culture actually sourcing textiles from our country; as well as individuals prioritising ‘Made in Scotland’ when they look to buy tartan. The majority of the money being made from our culture, does not credit or benefit us on any community level.
It is the history of tartan that many fall in love with. It is the tragedy gazed upon through a romantic lens. We know this first-hand because it’s always the history that gains attention. Well, tartan is more than history. Before all the war and culture attacks, it was about makers and the Highland environment. We are living history. We are here now. And we need support. The term ‘use it or lose it’ is immensely applicable here.
When companies choose to source tartan made in China, they are saying that our culture is worth it, but our people are not. Our makers are paid a Livingwage that supports them to live a quality life and they deserve that – EVERY garment worker around the world does. Human hands make the best cloth, that will never change.
Tartan made on a supersonic loom in a big factory is like a body without a soul. Yes, there is hyper-functionality and more profit to be made, but there is no heart. Checked cloth without heart is not tartan. It is not the Scottish culture that customers of these places are supposedly trying to elevate. It is just the cutting corners mentality of efficiency that propels commercial greed… and suffocates real artisans.
People think that because they talk about it and study it, that's enough... but really are we just here to entertain? Passing ancient skills down to the next generation is imperative for us to continue our culture, but this becomes futile if our young people have no jobs and no industry to work in.
Right now, we are like ducks on the water with their legs kicking frantically. On the surface Scotland’s artisans are being studied and celebrated, but underneath we are all fighting to stay afloat, whilst mill after mill is closing down.
This is the true cost of sending work overseas by choosing cheap imports over local manufacture. Yes, locally made stuff is more expensive – but there are genuine reasons for that. We are a big community in this country. No maker is trying to rip people off. Quite the opposite. If you’re going to attach price to a culture, theirs represent the true value.
Close the attitude-behaviour gap. Consume less fast-fashion. Save up. Pay more for your things. And less of them. That is true liberation for artisans.
Love Clare and the Team