Author Archives: Fergus

About Fergus

Technologist. Businessman. Petrolhead.

Sporrans: An Ethical Consideration

I’ve been selling sporrans for nearly 8 years and one of the points that continues to fascinate me is the topic of selling fur.

The Background

When I first started selling sporrans, I had just entered my twenties and my goals and motivations were quite straight-forward. I saw an opportunity of a market that no-one was fulfilling, so I began to trade in sporrans. The sporrans which demanded the highest sale prices were the ones made from rabbit fur.

At the time, I didn’t really think about what this meant. For me, it was a higher value product, so the decision to sell them was simple.

I recall being surprised one day when I actually thought about what it meant. Until that point, I had this romantic notion that I was selling a traditional product steeped in history, and that therefore it was in some way acceptable to sell fur as a result. My surprise came when I realised that I was engaging in the fur trade – plain and simple. I was selling products which were made of fur.

I found this surprising, because I’d never really put that much thought into it from a moral or ethical perspective. I also in some way thought that the fact the product was traditional would in some way affect the moral implications of the action.

I spent a bit of time examining how to evaluate the moral or ethical implications of an action and read a number of books on the topic, including the excellent ‘The Elements of Moral Philosophy‘ by James Rachels.

I concluded that I could see no moral justification for selling fur products of any kind. The idea of an animal being bred solely for the purpose of it’s fur just seemed wrong.

However, context is always important. I eat meat, I wear leather. I think the use of animal products is OK, but I think that certain criteria needs to be met before it becomes morally acceptable. For example, I believe that products which are a by-product of the meat industry are acceptable, or products which are by-products of some other action (the seal cull comes to mind) are also acceptable. IE if the decision to cull seals has been made, it seems wasteful to not use the resulting products (regardless of the moral implications of the original decision).

So, why mention this now?

Myself and a colleague attended the Scottish trade fair on Monday. Yet again, it surprised me that virtually no manufacturers in the sporran industry seemed to feel strongly about this. Most manufacturers appear to sell a large range of sporrans made from animal fur, and those questioned, seemed not to know if they were able to source fur from moral sources such as by-products of other industries.

I should say at this point, that I do not believe this is the fault of the sporran manufacturers. I understand that demand creates supply. It is the end consumer that has the power to decide what product to buy.

However, lack of blame does not infer lack of responsibility. I believe that sporran makers have a responsibility and an opportunity to effect a great change. I believe that if every sporran maker changed to only selling ethical fur or offering a larger range of substitute products (like faux fur), the end user may not notice much difference. Those customers which feel strongly about having an animal fur sporran would presumably be satisfied by one which is a by-product of another industry.

Therefore, if the opportunity is there, it surprises me that no one is attempting to make use of it. It seems to me that as an industry, we have an opportunity to make a little piece of the world better, but that no one is making an effort to do so.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As a company, since my realisation that I was no longer happy to sell fur products where the source of the fur could not be proven to be ethical, we have stopped selling fur sporrans. I believe we would sell more sporrans if we sold fur sporrans, but it’s not something I’m prepared to do. We stock a large range of bovine fur sporrans (usually cow hide), leather sporrans and of course, our range of vegan sporrans.

We’ve had ranges of artificial fur sporrans in the past but the manufacturers who offered them, don’t do so any more, which is a shame.

I’ve written about this topic before on our Ethical Policy, on our overview of the ban on sealskin and have been interviewed on Radio Scotland about the subject.

However, I notice that after nearly 8 years in the industry, a year or two after the ban on sealskin came into force, that nothing much has changed yet. People are using alternatives to sealskin, but if anything, that may serve to increase the demand on fur sporrans.

I think that as a company we should make more of an effort to make our views more available in an effort to spread knowledge about the situation and hopefully encourage people to give more weight to the ethical consideration of their purchase.

I also think that personally, I could do more to help drive this positive change and I will spend some time thinking about how best to achieve that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so feel free to share your feelings as a comment below, via Twitter or on our Facebook page. I’ll do my best to personally respond to any comments or feedback.

What Does Tartan Mean To You?

Ask anyone around the globe what being Scottish means to them and you’ll get any number of stereotypical responses. Bagpipes are a popular choice, naturally enough. Sports fans might tell you about golf and rugby, film buffs might shout ‘FREEDOM!’ in your face, but almost everyone will tell you that tartan is a big part of Scottish identity, on a national and international level.

Young's Tartan

Knowing that tartan is Scottish, however, is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this extremely important aspect of Scottish history and contemporary identity. There exist today just under 7, 000 registered clan tartans, and each of them is made using pre-dyed coloured strands of thread. These are then woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other, giving the chequered effect so widely recognised.  But what do the different patterns and colours really mean?

Several Scottish clans have what is known as clan tartan, meaning that the type and colour of tartan is specific to a Scottish clan. In 1725 the Independent Highland Companies wore a uniform tartan, marking them different from their foes in a very obvious way, and after this time clan tartan became a recognised and official way of standing out from other clans, and uniting your own.

Clan tartan is special and exclusive because the only person who can make a clan’s tartan official is the clan chief. In some clans, the wearing of the clan tartan is allowed only with permission from the chief. The special quality of tartan means that through the years, dating back to Victorian times, it is acceptable (in keeping with tartan etiquette) only to own and wear tartan with which you are in some way associated. You may be the descendant of a clansman, or bear the last name of one of the great clan families, for instance, or you may hail from a country that has its own. Canada, for example, is one of the Commonwealth countries with a national tartan. Some tartans are particularly exclusive. The Balmoral tartan is only to be worn by members of the Royal family, for instance. Similarly, there exist tartans that were designed to be universal. Black Watch tartan, also known as Government, Universal, or Campbell tartan, can be worn by anyone. So too can Hunting, Stewart, Caledonian and Jacobite tartan.

Take an interest in your choice of tartan by doing some genealogical digging, and find the tartan that means something to you.

The Easy Way to Buy a Kilt

Finding your perfect kilt can be a tricky process and can daunt even the most seasoned shopper!

Thankfully, we know lots about kilts, so we can help you along that path. However, it’s important that we try to do that without confusing you with the plethora of options available!

One such confusing option is tartan cloth width. The width of a cloth is literally how wide the fabric comes off the loom. If the mill has very wide loom, you get a very wide cloth, if it has a narrow loom, you get a narrow cloth. The wider the cloth, the bigger you can make garments, without having to stitch two or more pieces together.

In reality there are very few products we sell that need a wide cloth. The most common item which needs a wide cloth is a plaid.

Traditionally, most mills used a wide loom to make cloths about 60″ wide. When making an 8 yard kilt, a kilt maker would purchase only 4 yards of this cloth and cut it down the middle to create two lengths of 4 yards, stitch them end to end and conceal the seam in one of the pleats at the rear of the kilt.

However, one of the largest mills, House of Edgar, switched to making most cloths in single width – around 30″ wide. This is fine for kilts as you just order 8 yards of fabric, but doesn’t suit anything that needs cloth wider than 30″.

We thought it was important for customers to let customers know about this when they were choosing a tartan so on our cloth selection page, we showed a swatch, the mill, the price and the width of the cloth. We also showed the actual price per metre, so single width cloths appeared to be half the price of double width cloths.

We found that this confused more customers than it helped, so have changed the layout of this page to make the width of each cloth less prominent, and have altered the price of single width cloths to display as an effective double width price.

We’ve spoken with some customers about this and we feel the new change makes the step of choosing your cloth that little bit easier. What do you think? Do you need to see the width while you’re choosing a cloth?

The change is now live on our site: check out the Macdonald Modern (my favourite… helps that I’m a Macdonald as well!) and the rest of our tartans and let us know what you think.

Tartan Finder Gets a Facelift

Our tartan finder has been given a makeover, and we think the new look is pretty nice!

So… What’s New?

We’ve put in a search box on all pages, with the A-Z navigation right underneath it. To help you know exactly what you’re searching on, we wrapped the search box in tartan!

We’ve introduced the same navigation bar showing you how many tartans are in your current selection, allowing you to view more or less per page and the page navigation section.

Now the important bit – the actual tartan images! Firstly, we’ve made them larger and square and made them the same size as our product images.

When you select a tartan, you’ll see the cloths available in that tartan. We’ve tidied that up a bit, with a cleaner design.

We’ve also done the same on the individual cloth page.

As always, we hope you like the changes and we love to hear your feedback. Let us know what you think via Facebook, Twitter or by leaving a comment below.

This post is part of a regular series about improvements to our website. Read others here.

Tartan Finder Gets an Update

Our tartan finder has been given some great new features today.

The first one is the new tartan finder homepage:

You can browse tartans by letter, or search for a particular pattern. We’ve also included some links to some of our favourite tartans.

When you’ve chosen a tartan you get a list of products available in that tartan. Our second new feature is that we now show you the important details of the tartan you’ve chosen right at the top of that page.

We hope these new features will help you find your tartan and help you choose just what products you want it to be made into!

Don’t worry… our quest hasn’t stopped here… we have lots more improvements to include in the near future. We’re always looking at ways to make our tartan finder easier to use, and more useful and I’ll make sure to write a post when we roll out our next update.

Let us know what you think of the new updates, or let us know what you’d like our tartan finder to do, by contacting us via Facebook, Twitter or by leaving a comment below.

BBC Children in Need Charity Auction

In support of this year’s BBC Children in Need campaign, we’re starting a charity auction for a leather jacket on eBay.

Children In Need100% of the final sale price will go to Children in Need so check out the auction now, make a bid and you could grab a bargain! I think it will look great with one of our fashion kilts.

It’s the first charity auction we’ve done on eBay and it’s really very easy. You just click a button to say you’d like to donate a percentage of the sale price to the charity of your choice…and it’s all taken care of. Got something to sell? Why not try it out yourself.

EDIT: We’re pleased to say that the auction ended just under £30 and we shipped the jacket off to the happy buyer in the Netherlands!

Updated Measuring Guides

We’ve just put some helpful new measuring guides online which you can find here: Measuring Guides.

We know that it’s difficult buying clothes without trying them on, especially if they’re being custom made for you! However, taking a couple of minutes to get accurate measurements before ordering means that your brand new kilt is much more likely to fit perfectly.

As always, we’d love some feedback on what you think of them. Drop us an email, leave a  comment  or give us a call to let us know how they could be improved.

Musical Partnership

We’ve teamed up with the band Cross the Border to bring you some great new Scottish music.

You can listen to and buy their music via their site here.

I’m a big fan of new artists using new methods to promote their music and you can listen to the whole album on the site for free and share it with others. If you like, you can also purchase their album via CD or download.

My personal favourite is Sake of the Blade:

The buyakilt.com RX8 PZ at the Fintray Hillclimb

We were proud to sponsor Peter Locke in his Mazda RX8 PZ at the Fintray Hill Climb a couple of weeks ago.

Peter is a friend of mine that I know through the RX8 Owners Club, so and we were glad to do this with him and we think the logo looks pretty neat on the side of the car!

All the photos above were taken by Flat Out Photography.

A couple of shots taken outside our offices with me standing next to Peter’s car, and both our PZ’s next to each other.

If you are around the Edinburgh area over the next couple of weeks, you might just catch Peter driving around with our lovely graphic on the side of his car!

EDIT: You can view a playlist of videos of the Fintray Hillclimb that took place on 14-15 August 2010 here.

Updates to Tartan Chooser

You may remember that we introduced some changes to our tartan pricing system back in April. We didn’t stop there…we’ve been working hard on making the way you choose a tartan easier and more user friendly and I’m proud to say that we’ve launched a new tartan chooser.

When you’re viewing any product that is custom made for you in any of our tartans, clicking the ‘select a tartan’ link will now open up a tartan chooser panel on the same page. This easy to use panel will help guide you to choosing your perfect tartan.

New Tartan Chooser

To make things easier, we’ve built a help section right into it. If you need more information at any time, simply click the ‘Information’ icon at the top and a help section will slide down giving you more information on what you’re looking at.

Tartan Panel Help Section

We’re always keen to do things better so would love your feedback on how it can be improved or what you like about it.