Prickly Thistle


Having forged her career in Scotland’s oil and gas sector, former Finance Director, Clare Campbell is now looking to bring the same level of business rigour to a Scottish textiles sector where creativity often comes at the cost of sound commercial practice.

Clare’s big idea is Prickly Thistle, a new way to look at Scotland’s tartan heritage cloth and a design studio concept that makes a virtue both of her Highland home location and the business skills she honed in corporate life. Prickly Thistle’s USP is that their studio model is the only place where the processes of designing and making your official tartan and then manufacturing your finished products with no product type restrictions, can be carried out under one roof, and all with the guarantee of the Made in Scotland label.

As Clare Campbell says: “There are producers that can design or make your tartan, there are companies that can make products, furnishings and garments and companies that can provide something solely from their own mill. Prickly Thistle is the first company to fully integrate the process. This means when you take your tartan journey the result is both personal to you and genuinely unique – something that you’ve overseen from start to finish.”

As a commercial accountant since qualifying with The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland in the summer of 2003, the 37 year-old entrepreneur has experience in numerous industries. She has enhanced the financial systems of many Highlands-based SME’s all the way through to large international groups of companies alike. She’s worked for a construction firm with 130 staff and a £10m turnover. She’s been an audit-accounts senior manager advising hoteliers, residential care homes, landed estates, property developers and commodity traders for a UK Top Twenty-rated accountancy practice. Latterly, she had taken the role of Group Finance Director for a leading provider of onshore and offshore training, consultancy and project management.

However, it was her experience working closely with a prominent Highland interior architecture and soft furnishings business that the idea for her own luxury brand, drawing upon a network of endangered local artisan skills, first emerged. She says:”I have always had a subconscious need for a challenge. And after many years of working for others I decided to start my own business in the Highlands – a business that is built on my personal passion and one that is committed to positive economic impact for Scotland as an export organisation.”

She says: “My first instinct is always to challenge perceived wisdom, always to ask: ‘why not?’ and the genesis of Prickly Thistle grew out of three questions I needed answers to. ‘Why isn’t it possible to run a world class textile design studio from a base here in The Highlands?’, ‘Why is heritage too often an endpoint rather than a genuine inspiration for something new?’ and lastly, ‘How can I establish a business that reflects my personal values: pride in a sense of place, pride in Made In Scotland craft skills and pride in manufacturing something unique that resonates with people at a profound emotional level’.”

It was however, the reckoning of a family tragedy that compelled Clare to follow her dream, and turn her back on the rat race. She says: “When I lost my brother in a car crash when I was 20, my world changed and I changed, although it took several years to embark on this dream. My commitment to my professional studies and career, then marriage and bringing up my family were the priority for the last decade.”

But while personal tragedy encouraged Clare to confront the fact that life literally can be ‘too short’ it has also underlined the strong pull to objects, places and people imbued with the fondest memories. And this, she says, is the foundation of The Prickly Thistle experience for clients. “To this day it is something that ties me to home, here in Ross-shire, and to family. Life can change in an instant and that’s what’s led me to my tartan journey: a process that is personal, that has substance and is produced the traditional way, with highly specialised craftspeople.”

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