How a photo shoot for DC Dalgliesh hit headlines around the world, and helped save a historic tartan weaving mill
In 2011 Nick Fiddes and Adele Telford bought DC Dalgliesh, Scotland’s last traditional tartan weaving mill.
The Selkirk mill was founded in 1947 by Dixon Colton Dalgliesh and his wife Anne (who by all accounts was a phenomenal salesperson). At first the firm prospered. Its tartans were worn by the Queen, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Neil Armstrong.
But over time cheap tartan imports flooded the market, and although DC Dalgliesh were the only weaver in the world still using traditional shuttle looms, which make a far higher quality tartan, they couldn’t compete on price. By 2011 they were facing closure.
Repositioning the DC Dalgliesh brand to save the mill
Adele and Nick own Clan by Scotweb, an online tartan store selling a vast array of tartan products to customers around the world. They were long-term customers of DC Dalgliesh, partnering with them since the early noughties to make kilts in rare family tartans for people honouring their Scottish family heritage, along with custom plaids. This bespoke service became a key competitive edge for Scotweb, who offer the largest range of tartans in the world.
So, when DC Dalgliesh was in dire straits, Nick and Adele knew they needed to save the mill. Although they felt passionately about preserving traditional artisanal weaving skills and saving the jobs of people that had become friends, they also saw the acquisition as a smart business move.
In addition to safeguarding their ability to produce bespoke tartans for their online customers, Nick and Adele planned to reposition DC Dalgliesh as a desirable high-end brand, a luxury product with a rich heritage and contemporary creative flair.
They saw partnerships with designers as essential to the revitalisation of the firm. And they planned to take tartan to the corporate market, offering bespoke tartan for big brands.
They also produced a covetable tartan homewares line and a fashion line. This included new range of contemporary plaids using colours inspired by influences as diverse as runway trends, Regency modes, and the muted earthy tones of the Scottish hillsides
Concepting and producing powerful new brand imagery
A crucial part of repositioning any brand is powerful new brand imagery, and that’s where I came in. Nick invited me to concept and produce shoots for their new interior and fashion lines. My husband, photographer Mark Mainz, would take the images.
We worked in collaboration with Nick’s advertising agency Tayburn. Tayburn were rebranding DC Dalgliesh and we worked together on the creative concept for their first marketing campaign, with Mark and I driving the creative vision for the imagery.
We concepted and organised two location shoots. The interior products were shot in a private home. The fashion shoot was intended to be outdoors, but a storm changed our plans. The shoot team was booked and we were on a tight deadline, so we needed a new indoor shoot location and we needed it in 24 hours.
This is where having a creative producer comes in handy.
It was my job to find a new location. I opened my address book and started working my way through all my contacts with access to stately homes near the Borders.
I struck gold with Glen House, which has been the location for fashion campaigns for H&M, Barbour, Crew Clothing and Anthropologie, so they’re accustomed to crews coming in and taking over. Thankfully, the house was free the next day, so then all I had to do was get the new budget approved, rework the shoot schedule, re-brief the team, rearrange transport, and catering. It was one of the busier 24 hours I’ve known.
Our brief for the fashion shoot was to appeal to a younger fashion-forward audience, and position tartan as a hot contemporary choice. Our fantastic stylist mixed and matched the new tartans with edgy fashion choices. My favourite was a shocking pink tartan paired with a black leather coat.
Documenting the story of the mill for editorial around the world
Mark and I also produced an editorial shoot, where we documented the tartan mill in action, photographing the shuttle looms and the weavers.
The image I’m proudest of from that day, was taken on a stone bridge over the Tweed River. Mills are traditionally built near to water because the looms once used watermills to power them. We wanted to connect the heritage of weaving with the beautiful location and bring tartan into the mix.
We hauled 70 metres of tartan to the bridge, and three of the DC Dalgliesh team crouched behind the bridge parapet, hurling 10 metre lengths of tartan over the side again and again, until we got the perfect shot. I’m grateful for their patience and strong arms.
The DC Dalgliesh brand is now thriving once more, with a diverse portfolio of new clients. The mill celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018.
Nick says: “While we don’t want to lose hold of traditions, tartan manufacture has to move with the times. It should be a vibrant culture.” Vibrant is the word. DC Dalgliesh now work with designers like Vivienne Westwood, Ashley Williams, Celine, Charles Jeffrey and Katharine Hamnett. And their corporate business is growing. They’ve designed tartans for Westjet airline and the Gleneagles Hotel, as well as a signature tartan for Kraków in Poland.
One of my favourite aspects of this project is seeing the images we shot in 2014, still being used six years later, on their website, in editorial, and in their emails and newsletters. I love to see brands get great return on investment on their images, and when images have such longevity, it shows me that I’ve done a good job.
If you’re planning a rebrand or a major campaign, make sure your imagery is up to the job. I specialise in helping brands create compelling imagery that tells a story, builds your brand, and sells your product. Check out my consultancy services or contact me to discuss your needs.