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Tartan company in line for lucrative TV merchandise deals

A SMALL textiles weaving company has said it could be in line for a major boost if the television series Outlander becomes a hit.

Flashback: The forthcoming TV show Outlander stars Catriona Balfe as a nurse who is transported to 18th century Scotland.
Flashback: The forthcoming TV show Outlander stars Catriona Balfe as a nurse who is transported to 17th century Scotland.

Anthony Haines Textiles has already made around 500 metres of tartan cloth for the costumes of the show, which is set in and being filmed in Scotland. Now the business has started talks with the Starz television network and Sony over potential merchandising tie-ins.

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The Hawick business has already been receiving emails from US based fans of the Diana Gabaldon Outlander novels, which the television series is based on, asking if they can buy tartan items.

The Outlander story follows the adventures of 20th-century nurse Claire Randall, played by actress Caitriona Balfe, as she travels back through time to 18th century Scotland and falls in love with a Gaelic-speaking young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser, portrayed by Sam Heughan.

Alongside the potential Outlander spin-offs the company and sister manufacturing and cutting operation Ingles Buchan Textiles, based in Glasgow, have recently been taken on to Scottish Enterprise's account-managed business programme.

Colin Brown and business partner Kevin Nicoll took over Anthony Haines in February last year. The duo already used the mill to source cloth for tartan goods, including ties and scarves, which Ingles Buchan makes.

Mr Brown said the Outlander producers first got in touch in September last year to source fabric and said: "Initially it was four tartans with the same pattern to differentiate between different clans.

"They wanted something as authentic as possible. The first piece we put through our normal finishing process and that takes it from the raw woven state and softens it and gives a nicer feel. But they wanted the more rustic one and we had to change the set up of our looms to make it a more uneven weave which feels very coarse.

"The colours represent the heather dyes that would have been used back in the 17th century."

While Mr Brown cautioned that talks over Outlander merchandise were at an early stage he did acknowledge there was huge potential for Anthony Haines.

He said: "We have touched base with [Starz] and they are very interested. Apparently Outlander in the States is huge and we are already getting emails from people saying can we buy a kilt, can we buy some merchandise?"

Mr Brown said that since acquiring the mill operation three new staff have been added in Hawick and three more in Glasgow.

The mill in the Borders has 12 looms with eight of those high speed and the remaining four items that date back to 1927 and give a unique finish.

The biggest customer is Edinburgh Woolen Mill which has its tartan scarves woven by Anthony Hailes and manufactured by Ingles Buchan. Mr Brown said the mill has added staff in order to help bring through a younger workforce but also on the back of a commission weaving contract from GK Textiles, based in Vancouver, which provides tartan fabrics to schools in Canada.

Mr Brown is also looking at ways to bring in apprentices in both Glasgow and Hawick to bring through more younger workers. Ingles Buchan is also eyeing a move to larger premises, potentially double the size of its existing 4,500 square feet facility, early next year.

Mr Brown said both firms, which operate as subsidiaries under the main Ingles Buchan Holdings company, are targeting export growth in tweed and tartan in markets including North America, Canada, Japan and Australia. An investment plan to replace some looms in Hawick is also on the drawing board.

- This article was updated to show that Outlander is set in 18th century Scotland, not 17th as first published.

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