The EU vote to ban the sale of products containing sealskin across the continent sparked widespread response from industries which use those products. The Scottish Highland Dress industry is undoubtedly affected by this move, but I believe the extent to which it is affected is controlled by the industry itself.
I strongly oppose inhumane culling of any animal, and therefore support this ban to a large extent. I would like to offer sporrans in a range of materials, including animal furs, if I can be assured that they are sourced solely through ethical means - such as by-products of other industries.
While I love the traditions that Scottish Highland Dress is rooted in, a ban on sealskin isn't a ban on sporrans, and we are proud to work closely with a number of manufacturers to promote a range of synthetic fur sporrans and alternative skins which are by-products of other industries.
Is This the End of the Sporran?
I believe that many traditional industries struggle in times of change, due to the very nature of their work. Traditional industries sell traditional products, produced using traditional methods and often following traditional business plans. It’s usually new businesses that are the first to adopt new technologies or changes, and new businesses often grow in new markets, not old ones.
When an industry itself changes very little over time, it’s likely that the key players in that industry don’t change to any great extent, and when this happens, they become comfortable. Why change or adapt when you’ve got a steady stream of business? I would argue that you need to adapt to survive.
Theodore Levitt wrote a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review in 1960 called Marketing Myopia. It stated, among other things, that companies should focus on serving their customers in the market they operate, rather than on their products. By no means should they disregard their product, but the focus of its development and improvement should come from the customer, not the manufacturer. This means that they will see themselves as serving the market, rather than providing a product.
The author provides a number of examples, but the one that struck a chord was the oil industry. Oil companies commonly saw themselves as 'petrol sellers', threatened by new technologies or renewable energy sources. Levitt argued that they should see themselves as energy providers: you need your car to get you from A to B - you don't need it to run on petrol!
A Modern Day Sporran
As a kilt wearer, what do I need my sporran to do? I need it to be functional, well designed, aesthetically pleasing, well constructed and I'd like it to made with ethically sourced products. I don’t need it to be made from sealskin!
A sealskin sporran is a traditional product, and for good reason. It’s appearance, texture and durability are fantastic and versatile. It’s a natural choice, and a traditional one. However, when those traditions were written, it was a very different Scotland, and a very different world. The number of people who wear kilts has grown enormously, and the number of seal pelts that are needed to fulfil that demand has followed suit. Traditions need to evolve over time, and it’s important that they adhere to modern values and society. People were hung on the streets of Edinburgh, witches were burned alive – those are extreme examples, but they highlight the need for traditions to evolve with the society that is built on them.
I eat meat, and I wear leather. I’m not condoning all use of animal materials in clothing, but I feel very strongly that the materials used are sourced as ethically as possible. The leather industry works closely with the beef industry, and as such it is often a by-product of the food industry. In the very same way, we are happy to sell any fur which is proven to be a by-product of another industry.
Seal Skin Alternatives
At present we do not sell any sporrans made from animal fur. We offer a number of alternatives including sporrans made from bovine, goat hide or synthetic furs. We work closely with a number of manufacturers and have been pushing for more synthetic options for a number of years. Unfortunately there has been very little demand for such products, and as such, very little supply. We hope that this new legislation will push the industry to adopt more synthetic options, along similar lines as the fashion industry.
Director of Macdonald Sporrans