Kilt-maker raises standard in battle for quality tartan

IT HAS been a symbol of Scotland's heritage and identity for more than five centuries.

But a top kilt-maker yesterday called for a nationwide campaign to protect our national dress from being debased by a flood of cheap imports.

Iain Hawthorne, managing director of McCalls, Scotland's largest Highlandwear retailer, said cut-price imports of "inferior tat" threatened the kilt's status as an expression of "Caledonian splendour and heritage".

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He warned that, instead of being a cherished heirloom, steeped in clan history and passed down through generations, the kilt could degenerate into a disposable gimmick.

Mr Hawthorne, whose company has been making the traditional clothes for more than 300 years, called for a kilt standard to guarantee authenticity and preserve the age-old way of creating the garment.

And he declared: "It's time to fly the flag for Scotland, to literally raise the standard with a scheme that will guarantee authentic, made-in-Scotland kilts.

"The kilt should be a bespoke item, made by a Scottish manufacturer, from Scottish cloth woven in Scotland. What we are seeing coming in from abroad is not just a cheap imitation, it's demeaning the very magnet of attraction that demonstrates the image of Scotland."

Mr Hawthorne claimed that foreign kilt imports used an inferior cloth and were "churned out" in standard sizes and inferior cuts in a couple of hours by machinists with little knowledge of traditional methods.

He continued: "A traditional kilt uses eight yards of 100 per cent wool worsted cloth of at least 12 ounces in weight with an average of 32 pleats.

"In my opinion, it should be designed, authenticated and woven in Scotland. It should have leather straps and three buckles. The third buckle is good practice as it allows adjustment as we mature over time.

"There are more than 3,500 tartans and the patterns need to be perfectly matched - there's a huge amount of knowledge required. And each kilt is hand-stitched, taking more than ten hours of highly skilled work."

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Mr Hawthorne said a kilt standard scheme should enshrine a number of principles, including that the cloth is a tartan authenticated by the Lord Lyon and of a premium quality; that the maker is time-served and has reached the required level of expertise, and that the cloth is correctly matched.

The kilt, he insisted, was a statement of Scottish nationality or Scottish roots and should be worn with pride as a badge of association with a great nation.

Mr Hawthorne added: "Just like a piece of jewellery or an antique watch, you don't own it, you hold it in trust for future generations. The fact that it is handed down from father to son makes it all the more poignant. You can't say that about inferior tat.

"I noticed the team behind the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 is using the kilt to shout about the event - let's hope the kilt, as an icon of Scotland, is worth shouting about."

However, Brian Wilton, operations director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, formed in 1996 by Scotland's leading weavers and tartan retailers, said there was a place for bargain basement tartan "skirts".

He said: "Concerned as many of us may be at these cheap imported kilts, we feel sure that in the main, they're being bought by young lads taking their first step on the Highland dress ladder - looking for an informal and cheap starter kilt to wear to football or a night out with the boys - occasions when it would be extremely unwise to wear a real kilt."