Makers of traditional Scottish kilts are starting to feel a chilling draft because of higher wool prices -- caused principally by surging demand from China.
Alistair Buchan, chairman of Lochcarron of Scotland, one of biggest weavers of tartan for the kilt industry, figures that the cost of wool has risen by more than 30 per cent since the start of the year.
“The effect is going to be the same, whether it is the kilt industry or the general clothing industry: people are going to have to bite the bullet and pay more money,” Mr. Buchan said
Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, said the higher price of wool was being passed down the line towards kiltmakers, and that mills weaving tartan had started to put up their prices.
He said: “Mills will hold their prices for as long as they can before putting them up. But the Chinese have been buying a lot of wool, and the law of supply and demand has kicked in.”
Ken MacDonald, owner of Houston Traditional Kiltmakers in Paisley, Scotland, said prices of tartan had been stable until about a year ago.
“But mills have started putting through price rises of 2-3 per cent,” he said. “We held our prices for a bit but have started passing on similar increases to our customers.”
Mr Buchan said a lot of mills producing tartan had ordered wool well ahead of their requirements, so some of them were still working at lower costs.
“But they can’t just exhaust these contracts and then put out price lists 20 per cent higher than before, so most will be gradually moving their prices up,” he said.
Mr Buchan said some customers would probably move downmarket and buy alternatives to pure wool. “That is not the market that the traditional Scottish kilt industry is involved in - it is virtually all 100 per cent wool for traditional kilts,” he said.
Mr. MacDonald’s most expensive handmade kilts, which include eight yards of tartan woven from wool, sell for up to £800 ($1,315), though most customers spend £300-£500. A full Highland outfit, which also includes a jacket, shirt, sporran and the dress dagger known as a sgian dubh, can cost more than £1,400.
Mr Buchan said the wool used for making tartan came mainly from the southern hemisphere - Australia and New Zealand - and that there was a severe shortage, caused to some extent by a lack of demand some years ago.
He said: “The Chinese are pretty frustrated too because they are not able to get the amount of wool that they require for their industries - there is a just a shortage generally”.