Alumni in Focus
Founder / Tartan Designer - Prickly Thistle Scotland
Clare started a Highland Tartan Uprising on 14 October 2017 and with the help of her rebels, has built a brand that truly understands the value of authenticity and integrity.
Tell us about the journey after graduating from RGU, what led you to creating Prickly Thistle?
Since graduating from RGU in 1996, I went on to complete my training and become a fully qualified member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. I spent 13 years, both in practice and industry, in a variety of financial roles, learning from incredible business leaders and gaining experience in a wide and diverse range of industries.
For me there was not one moment that led me to creating Prickly Thistle, it was a series of events over a number of years that allowed me to find what I call pure purpose. There were moments of tears and many more moments of joy, however it made me question what difference I wanted to make on the world. Life is too short and I didn’t want to wake up one day saying “if only I”… Prickly Thistle is legacy, identity, values and it has become a living breathing community of people with shared purpose.
How much impact did the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns have on your business?
In the beginning crowdfunding seemed the only route to raising seed working capital to enable the business to grow beyond what was for me a couple of years in a shed in my garden running a small design studio. There simply was little appetite to lend or invest in my vision in 2017, however with serious hard work and constantly chipping away, my landscape is changing.
The Kickstarter campaigns ultimately allowed us to sell a collection of products on pre-order that in turn provided funds for us to invest in equipment, people and follow the path to #BuildTheMill. However, the most incredible discovery for me was the love and passion shared by the people who backed Prickly Thistle; our Rebels, the people who never gave up on us. And why do I say never gave up on us? Our first campaign failed. I was totally devastated and close to saying, “well I tried”. These people inspired me to keep going, and here we are…..my project is now the 2nd most funded craft project on the platform in the world.
You describe yourself and your backers as ‘The Rebel Team’, why?
It was unplanned, much of what we do is in a way! When I say unplanned, I mean that every day we try and listen and read about the things that are impacting on lives around the world, so we make sure we are always relevant. Although our overall vision has never changed, we want to adapt and respond based on our new found learning. To create a sustainable business in the Highland region of Scotland, one that added a new chapter to the history of tartan. Respecting the past but disrupting the future for this icon of our country.
So what does being a Rebel mean? My three favourite quotes on the word and why will help me explain:
“It’s not rebels that make trouble but trouble that makes rebels”- Ruth Messinger (Political Leader)
We see the trouble in the textiles industry globally with modern slavery and environmental damage. We also see that tartan as a design base had become stereotyped and dated – and we want to make a positive change.
“Rebels are the people who refuse the seen for the unseen” - Anne Sedgwick (British Writer)
Often people did not see our unseen vision, which is funny given how long tartan textiles have been in existence. But the idea of creating new cloths in a new way with legacy equipment in a declining industry just didn’t compute. I know people looked at me and thought what are you doing? You are an accountant…..
“I’ve been reckless, but I’m not a rebel without a cause” - Angelina Jolie (Actor)
It could be said buying and moving two 40 tonne lorry loads of disused weaving equipment, ranging between 50 and 100 years old, to the Scottish Highlands with no idea of how to operate the equipment and not anyone to show me was reckless. Finding a loom tuner was harder than finding an astronaut in Inverness!
Tell us about the ‘Highland uprising’. How has the history of tartan played a role in your company?
Initially the phrase for me encapsulated certain aspects of the last ‘Uprising’, the crowdfunding, the tartan, the determination to fight for what you believe in, all within the proximity to Inverness – yes I am talking about 1745. But there is no politics in what we are doing. The history has undoubtedly inspired me, but more from the identity and community sense, the feeling of belonging and how that related so much to today. Never have we had such incredible connectivity and communication options, but yet the sense of belonging and being equal or valued is a real challenge. I wanted tartan to fight a new fight, all the while respect home, the planet we share and its resources.
What have been the highlights of your journey with Prickly Thistle?
A difficult question and a million answers. A highlight I often go back to is something Martin said - Martin is the loom tuner that I didn’t think could exist. He has been with us every week since we opened the pop up mill in spring 2017. The day he said he wished he was twenty years younger, not because he felt old but [I think] because he was warmed to see the machines of his youth and majority of his adult life that he thought had disappeared were somehow back in front of him. The rhythm, the sensation, the creations they mastered and the looms themselves that to us are works of art.
What’s next for Prickly Thistle?
Our focus for 2020 is completion of #BuildTheMill, and I am incredibly thankful to our 539 backers who pledged £80,633 to bring this project to life (over double our original goal). And then…this amazing journey will continue.