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Custodians of a Sacred Craft

March 26, 2024|PRICKLY THISTLE

Prickly Thistle founder Clare Campbell takes us on a tour of her Highlands mill, where she is using salvaged looms to weave new narratives into the story of tartan

At the Prickly Thistle’s mill in Evanton, just north of Inverness, founder Clare Campbell and her team are weaving new narratives into the story of tartan. The business produces bespoke tartan designs, which tell the story of their clients, rather than clan tartans. Establishing her business in 2018, Clare’s goal was to bring back weaving to the Scottish Highlands, and her vision connected globally with the Scottish diaspora. Sustainability is at the core of Prickly Thistle’s ethos, and today, the company is the only B Corp mill in Scotland. Formerly working as a chartered accountant, Clare was drawn to the legacy of tartan, its rebellious history and its place in the cultural identity of Scotland. The Mill’s team includes those taking their first steps in the fashion industry. Clare is passionate about supporting the training of those from the local community who may have left the Highlands in search of opportunities in the past. 

Clare Campbell from Prickly Thistle wears a tartan shawl
red wool being woven on a vintage loom

‘It’s really important that we invested in old looms. For me, it’s very symbolic of the craft and the heritage; it’s labour intensive, and my mission was to go against the notion of replacing people with robots. We purchased beautiful old looms and have become custodians of the sacred craft of weaving. Being labour intensive, by using the old looms, we have created jobs.’ Clare Campbell, Founder of Prickly Thistle.

Becoming a values-based business was also paramount to Clare, who wanted to marry the romantic symbolism of tartan with a road map for its future and ensure the historical values of the rebellious nature of the design continued. Prickly Thistle’s motto, ’Changing the future and disrupting the past’, best sums up this approach.

mill machinery in a Scottish tartan mill

We have managed to pivot and introduce a values-based way of life. Rebellion is not seen as causing mischief, and you can do it from a place of passion. For me, there is a clear value, community, and identity in a tartan. We’ve taken the word tartan and focused on its identity and symbolism today, around a shared community of values.’ Clare Campbell, Founder of Prickly Thistle.

Prickly Thistle was founded through crowdfunding, and today, the mill’s client base is global. To create your own design, you work with the team, who look to understand you or your organisation’s story. This narrative approach speaks to the history of tartan as a fabric that was very specific to a community and place. Weavers would use local flora and fauna to colour the cloth, with the wool coming from herds local to the community’s area.

yellow tartan being made on a loom
yellow tartan being threaded

‘The tartan act says that anyone can have a tartan, you don’t need to have Scottish DNA. It’s really about telling a story, and tartan does this beautifully in a simple way. For me, the future is that we see fashion as not factory-based but more tribal, community based. We are fabric creators. We grow and have ambition, but we also take responsibility for the fabric of the planet and lead the way.’ Clare Campbell, Founder of Prickly Thistle.

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