On the up · 28 October 2015

Siobhan Mackenzie: The Scottish fashion designer whose bespoke kilts are a hit with Miss World

Designer Siobhan Mackenzie
Designer Siobhan Mackenzie

Inspired by her Highland roots, Siobhan Mackenzie launched a business creating an array of bespoke kilts. She spoke to Business Advice about designing Miss Scotland’s outfit for the Miss World pageant and her goal to go global.

Siobhan Mackenzie was looking for inspiration for her graduate final collection, while studying for a BA in fashion design and production at Manchester Metropolitan University, when she was struck by the idea to look into the history of her Highland roots.

During her time as a student she had undertaken an internship where she learnt the traditional art of kilt-making and then began to experiment with the design of the kilt.

The idea to add a “21st century spin” to Scottish tradition was born and the bespoke kilts she created were incredibly well received. Initially she “had no intentions of starting the business” and had also found it hard to gauge how the collection would go down as when you are changing something so traditional “you can be playing with fire”.

But she was overwhelmed by the immediate demand for her distinctive style of work, and figured that since she had identified a unique product and I had demand for it, the natural next step was to start the business.

Feeling she needed to receive some advice on how to develop her firm from there, Mackenzie researched accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark after hearing it crop up in various conversations. “I began in February 2015, and the difference it has made is incredible,” she said.

kilt four

Mackenzie feels her confidence as an entrepreneurial leader has “improved dramatically” and the support network established through mentors, enablers and fellow entrepreneurs is actually “something quite special”. She admitted feeling “terrified” when starting up, worried about making a wrong decision as she didn’t have the business experience, so the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ask all manner of questions was critical to her business’ early formation.

It’s schemes like Entrepreneurial Spark and Business Gateway that Mackenzie believes new businesses should consider as an early port of call. When she first had the idea of starting the business last summer, Mackenzie took part in Business Gateway’s free workshops, which were a “great starting point”.

She was then referred onto The Prince’s Trust and Bridge 2 Business. “They are there to help you succeed – free of charge – so what do you have to lose?” she pointed out.

Her concept was honed and she has an “avant-garde approach to the traditional kilt”, contrasting various textures and cloths into one piece. The bespoke service also means clients can have their outfit designed in their own tartan and colours, especially for them.

Still a fledgling business, Mackenzie suffered a setback after an operation at the beginning of the year meant she lost a couple of months on the business. “It seriously frustrated me, I gave myself such a hard time about it, although the circumstances were completely out of my control,” she admitted.

Kilt one

Learning from that, she believes the important thing to remember is certain things that you can’t account for and can’t control – “accept it, pick yourself back up and move on because I stressed myself out and probably was less productive than if I’d accepted it”.

Mackenzie’s steely willpower is evident when she added: “Setbacks are meant to test you – if it was plain sailing as an entrepreneur, everyone would do it”.

She has pushed on since and has started selling internationally – into the US, Canada, New Zealand and Europe to date. Mackenzie was also asked to design the national outfit for Miss Scotland in Miss World 2014, with the show (and outfit) televised on E! Worldwide. She has since been asked to design again for this year’s contest.

Her aims don’t stop there however, with a five-year forecast of having stores “on a global scale”. She noted her designs have large markets in North America, Canada and Japan, with Scottish heritage and tartan being keen interests. For now though, she’s focused on getting stocked in luxury boutiques within the UK and pushing on with her goal to become “the brand known for reinventing the kilt”.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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