So why and how do we do what we do?
Good question, and where do we start?...Let us start at the begining. This page might end up being a rather long one, so maybe grab a cuppa!
Clare's moment of 'I need to do something!'
Clare was an accountant, not very creative right? She was in her mid 30's, her kids were not babies anymore but not full blown teenagers either. She and her husband had met when they were very young, they were soul mates, sounds cheesy but it's true. Her dad had passed away and it took her straight back to being 20 and attending her first funeral - that of her 19 year old brother. It's true, events like these define you and maybe give you that push, the courage, to do something that you might not do otherwise. You take a look at yourself in the mirror, and decide what you will see.
Clare was back at this crossroads again, not 20 this time but in her mid 30's. That decade or so had passed so quickly - she got married, became a mum and had some amazing times, but she knew it would only pass quicker each time. Losing her younger brother always made her realise how short life could be, the legacy and identity of her brother was something she always did what she could to keep alive. So in a random (very long story kind of way) tartan found Clare and she found purpose, but it was literally weaving its way into every aspect of her life. Looking back it's like, if the whole purpose revealed itself to her in those early years she would have been overwhelmed and may have decided it was too much. But with hindsight, it is funny how bit by bit some things just carry you.
Clare being Clare, at this point says enough of all that stuff - this story might have started with her in her shed and a sewing machine she had never used before, but it really is all about the team.
The Team - they are everything!
Literally they are, like the century old looms that weave our wool fabric, every cog, chain, shaft and strike is how these amazingly passionate bad-ass heroes work. They are like a family, truly, in fact check out the family album
In 4 crazy quick years we have gone from 0 to 15 in numbers. We have just about every decade covered, from 20's to 70's, and if truth be told, Martin in his 70's is probably the fittest!
The team take pride in what they do to a whole other level. Their attention to detail is mind-blowing, all creative solutions they just seem to magic out of the air, they take knowledge and experience from completely different sectors and situations and just make it all work here.
The main bits people want to know about....
So rather than hurt your eyes with loads of chapters, we thought it would be easier to share some answers to the questions we get asked all of the time!
Being based in the Scottish Highlands, its in our DNA for one, but we had come to realise this type of design has impact! What other textile designs have the power to support identity, integrity and doing the right thing vibes!
Why natural fibre textiles?
Well is there anything else? Tartan was and is iconic for living and breathing in a wool form, could we be as daring to say unless the design is woven with natural fibres, is it really tartan?.....
So with honouring the past we have the paradox of changing the future at the same time. Currently only 1% of all textiles globally are made with wool, compared to 60% or more made from petrochemical synthetics, that speaks for itself when we know how damaging our consumption of man-made fibre 'fashion' is. In short, the past is the future, why? because it works.
Why choose these methods of making?
When we started this journey, Clare wanted to create as many jobs as she could in the Scottish textiles industry and she wanted to regenerate skills that were endangered across the sector. Modern looms came into existence with two core objectives, make more fabric quicker and reduce costs, i.e. less labour which meant less people and less skills as technology replaced them. We found some of the last remaining century old looms in Scotland, they were designed and built during times when things were built to last, which is so symbolic of the very fabric and clothes we make with their help.
When you know how something has been made and by who, your emotional connection and sense of pride in supporting that transforms how you see that product. It gives you a 'look' that no modern alternative could ever give you.
Why did you do crowdfunding?
To be honest there was not much choice back in 2017/2018. When Clare said to everyone she knew in Scotland that she wanted to restore this industry to the Highland region, they looked at her like she was mad.... Why would she try and make fabric like this or any products with it when it's so much cheaper to get it made overseas? Why would she do it when the 'margins' were so low? Some even thought why bother full stop, nobody cares.
So crowdfunding it was, and this was where Clare was able to take the facts to a global community, a community that was often thousands of miles away, and THEY got it. Clare of course, had some massive luck moments along the way. In particular a well known Scot, who actually played a Highlander in one of the most successful book and TV series about 18th century Scotland stood beside Clare and believed in what she was trying to do. His share with his community, was the spark that was missing, a debt is always owed to that man. You might say why not name him? Out of Clare's incredible respect for him, she has always tried to ensure that those who need to know know, and not take advantage of his name.
Why clothing and not fashion?
This took a while for us to work out to be honest, in the begining many wanted to label us as a fashion brand, and we even did it ourselves at times. But when we realised what 'fashion' actually meant we knew we were not part of that style.... Quite simply we make clothes, bad-ass clothes, clothes for womxn who are like "hell yeah, I want to not wear anything that endorses slavery" and "I now know that oil clothes are not cool on any level no matter who influences it". Clothes it is, defined as garments worn to protect our bodies, and when we wear the right clothes they also protect our planet.
How did you get all of the skills together?
That was a wing-it scenario, we cannot deny that! After the failed first crowdfunding campaign, we developed a Plan B, and we are still in the Plan B phase. COVID added a bit of time onto our rural regeneration dream and permanent home plans, but has not destroyed it. But back to Plan B, that was to establish a mill in a rented space, save this equipment we had found and create a team with skills to operate it all. Sounds easy maybe, but actually the skills needed to use the 100 year old looms were incredibly rare in this country, despite 7/10 people in the 1830's all working in textiles in Scotland.
The funny story goes, through a network of garages in small villages, and some door knocking, we found Martin. Martin is our weaving yoda, he worked 30 years ago in the last mill in this region that closed its doors after financial failure. He had spent most of his life in textiles, formerly in Belfast, but he moved to Scotland and stuck around, despite that mill closing. Maybe he knew one day, some untrained crazy passionate people would knock at his door and say "hey, can you help us?".... Four years on and we are proud to say the knowledge has been preserved and been passed on. We cannot forget the students on this one, Martin is one of the best life teachers you will ever meet but we also, somehow, managed to find the best students ever. It was the perfect weaving storm. A few 'learning experiences' along the way, happy accidents even, but somehow it worked.
Tell us about B Corp and why you applied?
In early 2019, it was coming up to 12 months as an operational mill, Clare was researching the story of Patagonia and Yvon the founder. She was intrigued to learn more about B Corp certification knowing that they were one of the trail blazing purpose-led businesses that brought it to life. She then realised that her vision to build a mill that was all about people, honouring craft, honouring ethical and transparent supply chains as close to home as possible and do everything she always could for community near and far, was basically the core of being a B Corp. And what she loved about B Corp was the level of audit they performed when assessing you, this was not a 'pay and display' badge.
It was Summer 2019 and we started work on preparing for our assessment, December 2020 and we passed with one of the highest scores in Scotland. Check it all out here.
How has Climate Change affected the story?
It has without a doubt accelerated our courage to speak up, and to use our voice. The more we learned about the destruction that was being caused by the global textiles and fashion world, the more we grew in our purpose. Global textiles and clothing are the second most destructive sectors, more than aviation and maritime combined. The rise of man-made synthetic fibres in 'fashion' was frightening, the consumption was already at unsustainable levels with no sign of slowing. But what was starkly obvious, was so many people did not know that they were wearing oil, we didn't know either until we started our mill. All of a sudden it was no longer just about restoring the weaving of tartan to the Highland region of Scotland, it was a need to fight a fast fashion and petrochemical war.... this is killing our planet and all of the children we will never meet!
How has the pandemic affected the story?
Like Climate Change, the pandemic of 2020 was another major learning moment, not just in the context of the business of making textiles and clothes, but as a human being. The pandemic accelerated our learnings about how governments and leaders do a really shitty job at times. We have seen every challenge, issue, or lack of reply, as a gift. It may seem odd to say that, but now we know even more, and our desires to do the right thing have just got stronger and stronger. You can read more about our Activism & Action pillar here. It's our way of making these things public, and we know as this is still a living crisis, this battle is not over with them. Before you think wow, this is a bit negative, it's not, this is really positive. We see every challenge as an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to become more resilient and the opportunity to make sure the end of the story is the right one.
What pisses Clare off?
With this heading you might think is there anything that Clare loves, she would say "absolutely, I love sorting out things that piss me off". All we can say is she is on some mission and takes the 'never give up' mantra to another level, she will jump on board if anyone needs her!
What inspires her most, is her team of loveable rebel crazies, the amazing customers who support the business by buying product, the suppliers who embrace her random questions at times, and her forever supporting family. If they all remind her every now and then that what Prickly Thistle stands for is needed more in the future, then she will drink those gallons of coffee and sleep as little as possible to ensure that we stay in the game. Clare actually hates 'selling', but she knows that there is lots of people out there who want to buy good things and support good businesses. If Prickly Thistle as a business can make a positive difference for the future, she knows that makes selling a good thing. Just when you meet her, stop her from giving away free stuff all of the time....
What do we think the future of clothing will be?
It will simply be: clothes made from natural fibres only. They will have been designed with no fabric waste, they will be made with minimal hardware that is easily removed for recycling but also hardware that has multi-size adaptability. We will all buy less, pay ethical prices and be happy to wait a few weeks for them.
All those brands who do not do ALL of these things, will no longer exist.
The last and most important point, is people will have never felt so happy, so healthy and so re-energised. The win win is - so will the planet!