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Back in 2010, as Director of luxury brands at Saks Fifth Avenue, Justin MacInerney uncovered the huge potential of the Scottish textiles industry. Now he has his sights on bringing both Scottish and British brands back to the world-wide stage.

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Although English, I have lived and worked in the US for more than half my life. Until recently I served as Director of Luxury Brands for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, with specific responsibility for the super-luxe menswear labels Brioni, Brunello Cucinelli, Charvet and Kiton. Three of these are Italian. One is French. None, alas, is British.

In May 2010, together with several Saks colleagues, I was invited by Scottish Enterprise to visit a dozen mills and companies all over Scotland which produce the finest cashmere (Todd and Duncan), tweeds (Johnstons of Elgin), tartans (Lochcarron of Scotland), knitwear (Barrie Knitwear – recently acquired by Chanel), accessories (Begg & Co) and interiors products for the world’s highest level couture and designer labels.

Developing training schools and apprentice programmes to ensure a company’s future, and a communications strategy that pulls together all of the brand’s initiatives, story and philosophy are essential.

Justin MacInerney

"Hidden treasures"

The experiences of that trip literally changed my life. I realised that my ultra-luxe Italian and French brands were doing just fine, and that maybe I could use the expertise I had acquired working with these iconic houses to benefit British (both Scottish and English) luxury producers, which had become eclipsed in the US market by ‘Made In Italy’.

Earlier this year I returned to Scotland and uncovered more ‘hidden treasures’. Among them, fully-fashioned knitwear specialists Hawick Knitwear and Peter Scott; Lovat Tweed (kings of Scottish estate tweeds); quirky contemporary label Jaggy Nettle, and newly-launched luxury handbag and accessories brand, Strathberry of Scotland.

I also met with designer Iona Crawford, whose ready-to-wear collection features her amazing fine art designs; and hand-knit guru Di Gilpin, who has surprisingly created hand-knit running shoes for Nike, among other projects.

“You make the best products in the world, but you are really bad at marketing them!” 

During this trip, I was asked to address a meeting of the Scottish Borders Export Association giving my take on Scottish brands and their potential in the US. I didn’t think I was going to make many friends with my opening statement: “You make the best products in the world, but you are really bad at marketing them!” 

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Lochcarron tartan

To my surprise, most of the audience agreed with me. In the past, the quality of their products spoke for itself, but in today’s brand-centric, social networking culture, it is simply not good enough to rely on reputation, or product quality. Exquisite craftsmanship, on-trend design, best-in-class finishing and trim details and of course seamless delivery are a given.

Developing training schools and apprentice programmes to ensure a company’s future, and a communications strategy that pulls together all of the brand’s initiatives, story and philosophy are essential. Italy’s Brunello Cucinelli is a shining example of this. 

"...fashion is cyclical, and there is a growing interest in British style."

US luxury retail buyers and consumers want the most desirable and exclusive brands available. For the past two decades, many of these have been ‘Made In Italy’. But fashion is cyclical, and there is a growing interest in British style.

In the short time that I have been working with Scottish brands, I have noticed a significant change in attitude. Companies that were afraid of promoting their own brand are rethinking, and in some cases, taking action.

Todd and Duncan has already taken the plunge, and I applaud the company’s leadership. It is time for others to be innovative and creative, and return to the US with branded collections that are tailored to the needs (appropriate weight, colour, silhouette, quality and price) of this most important of markets.

If you'd like to import Scottish textiles, Scottish Development International can help. We promote textiles for fashion, interiors and technical uses via the Textiles Scotland brand.

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Main photograph by Martin Scott Powell