Contemporary can be cosy – plaid doesn’t mean staid – as the popularity of tartan blankets and scarves from an up and coming brand is proving
THE Tartan Blanket Co is the brainchild of Emma and Fergus Macdonald, a couple who combine their love of traditional Scottish design and craftsmanship with a flair for fashion and retail. We ask Emma to explain the concept behind the company.
What do you do?
We sell a beautiful range of tartan and lifestyle blankets and scarves in a range of weaves and materials from hard-wearing new wool to luxurious Scottish cashmere. We hand-pick or design every product we sell and only choose designs that we love. We have also carefully selected some beautiful fashion and home items to complement our blanket range.
Who are you?
The Tartan Blanket Co is run by my husband Fergus and me and our fantastic team of nine who manage our warehouse, customer service, buying, merchandising, design and marketing. I previously worked as a buyer for a multinational retailer and Fergus had been in the kilt business for 10 years. This brings together my buying and merchandising skills with Fergus’s knowledge of the traditional Scottish retail market to create something with a more contemporary and unique style than was available. We saw the potential to create truly beautiful products from traditional mills and so The Tartan Blanket Co was born.
Where are you based?
In 2014 we had the fantastic opportunity to purchase a Grade B listed building in the Leith Conservation area of Edinburgh that used to be the main part of a Co-operative department store. Recently restored, it now houses our office and warehouse.
Why did you set up the company?
We wanted to sell beautiful, unique Scottish products in a modern and stylish way, to provide great value and give the customer a lovely shopping experience from an impressive website, with friendly and helpful customer service and fast shipping in beautifully wrapped boxes.
Where are your products made?
We work with mills in Scotland and Yorkshire, as well as some overseas.
What’s different about your product?
We’re taking the skills and heritage of traditional weaving mills and making a contemporary product. We offer a number of tartans as well as more modern designs in a range of wools and cashmere. We love each and every item we sell and feel that they often transcend different age groups, as tartan can be both trendy and traditional, but above all they are stylish and great quality.
What is your most popular product?
An all-time favourite of our customers is the classic wool blanket in Antique Buchanan (£30) but some of our blanket scarves and scarves have been especially popular recently, such as the Lifestyle New Wool Scarf in Pink Beehive (£25), Luxury Lambswool Blanket Scarf in Stewart Camel Weathered Tartan (£60), and a recent favourite is the Lifestyle New Wool Blanket in Grey and Lemon Herringbone (£60).
What’s more popular, traditional tartans or more contemporary styles?
Tartan is so classic it is always on trend. We try to pick the best colours and our customers love the heritage attached to it. However, our lifestyle designs add a fresh pop of colour and have been getting more and more popular, giving us the opportunity to grow our range in different directions.
Who are your customers?
They’re really varied, but most are female and 25-plus. A lot are based in Scotland and the rest of the UK, but we ship internationally so we get orders from all over the world.
What is your background?
We both studied business at the University of Edinburgh but didn’t meet until the day we graduated. Fergus had set up his kilt business at university and continued working on that while I did a masters in international fashion marketing before we moved to London, where I was a fashion buyer. After four years we decided to move back to Edinburgh and go into business together, which is when The Tartan Blanket Co came to life in October 2014.
What challenges have you faced?
Firstly it took some time to get used to working together as co-directors, but we have very complementary skill sets and make a strong team. We have also found it a very competitive market and have to really differentiate ourselves, but the customer feedback has been fantastic.
What was the biggest surprise along the way?
The amazing work which our team has done, from photography, designing products and the website, to helping in the warehouse when we have so many orders going out. The growth this winter has taken us by surprise, but everyone has pulled together to make sure every customer is happy.
What is the fun part of your business?
There are so many! Every day there is excitement over new products coming in, or a fantastic customer review telling us how much they love their blanket, or everyone relaxing and catching up with a drink at our Friday team meeting after all the mayhem has stopped.
How have things evolved?
We started the company around blankets but it was a natural evolution into scarves and blanket scarves, as they are from the same mills and we thought our customers would want a bit of tartan style for themselves as well as their homes. When we launched our pop-up shop in Leith we wanted a range of products we felt complemented our blankets and brand, so now we have our own candles and home and jewellery designers.
What have you learned?
From feedback we learned what customers most value, such as lovely packaging and a friendly person on the phone to answer queries. We also learned to test products before jumping in, as often items we expected to do well would sell much slower than something we might never have backed.
What’s your style philosophy?
It’s about combining classic tartan and traditional manufacturing with modern, stylish design. Many of our items are timeless and so well made they could sit perfectly in a modern, stylish home in ten years’ time.
Which items do you own?
We’ve just bought our first home and are decorating so I have my eye on a number of things, but at the moment we have a couple of blankets for cosying up in front of the fire; the Lifestyle New Wool Blanket in Grey Beehive (£60) and the Luxury Lambswool Blanket in Isle of Skye Tartan (£90).
What is your aim now?
To grow our range and learn from customer feedback to make their experience as special as possible. We want to do more than just sell blankets, we want to warm up people’s lives and make them happy. We pick blankets we think they would like to snuggle up in and when we pack them, we wrap each one like a Christmas present so people smile when they open it.
• The Tartan Blanket Co Pop Up Shop is open until 23 December, Mon-Sat: 10am-6pm, Sun: 12pm-5pm; The Tartan Blanket Co, 170B Great Junction Street, Edinburgh, EH6 5LJ, 0131-516 9229, tartanblanketco.com