Ta-ta tartan, bonjour haute couture: Scotland's textile trade reinvents itself as a purveyor of luxury goods

 

The idea that Scottish haute couture is confined to kilts, woolly jumpers and "see you Jimmy" hats needs updating. The nation's booming rag trade is starting to rival the economic powerhouses of North Sea oil, whisky and high finance.

New figures have revealed that the textile industry is thriving north of the border, based on high-value luxury goods. The sector has recorded a 30 per cent rise in exports since 2009 and now sells £375m worth of exports annually – hitting a 2015 target early.

Cathy Black, head of textiles at Scottish Enterprise, said the clichéd image of tartan was out of date because the Scottish textile industry now designs, makes and exports everything from teabags to heart valves as well as luxury fashions for French brands Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès. "This isn't just about green woolly jumpers. The nature of the industry has changed and instead of volume we have focused on quality. Innovation has been the key and the high-end market is our focus," she said.

Expertise in cashmere, tweed and Gore-Tex, as well as wool and lace manufacturing are all found in Scotland. Technical textiles used in airline and train seats, hotel rooms and the interior design industry are also big business. Brands that use Scottish fabrics include BMW, Disney, British Airways and Gucci.

Alex Salmond visits Barrie Knitwear Alex Salmond visits Barrie Knitwear Big export markets have been the United States, France, Italy and Germany. Sales in Asia are steadily growing with Japan a big consumer. And sales to China are set to reach a record high, according to HM Revenue and Customs, with exports reaching £9.7m in the first nine months of 2013. Scottish cashmere and wool is sought after by the world's top designers. In 2012, Chanel bought Hawick-based manufacturer Barrie Knitwear.

James Sugden, who has worked in the industry for 40 years and recently joined his daughter's brand, Rosie Sugden Cashmere, expects this year's export figures to be even stronger. He said: "The industry really is on the up. From weaving, spinning, sewing and knitting – we really are growing. I think Scotland is following the Italian pattern where small businesses really can thrive."

But Sugden warned the key to longevity is training, apprenticeships and the passing on of skills. Many of the businesses in Scotland have hundreds of years' experience. Morton Young and Borland, whose lace curtains have appeared in ITV's Mr Selfridge, has been making Scottish lace and weaving madras in the Irvine valley since 1900 and now exports globally. Meanwhile, Fife-based Scott and Fyfe, established in 1864, manufactures items as diverse as car airbags and tennis nets. And Johnstons of Elgin, founded in 1797, makes cashmere for luxury-goods groups as well as its own line.

Johnstons' chief executive, Simon Cotton, said: "Lots of new brands are coming to us because they want British products. Scottish cashmere has a particular reputation and is unique."

Harris Tweed, worn by celebrities from Matt Smith to Madonna, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Harris Tweed Hebrides reported orders up by 25 per cent in 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence