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Thistle and Broom Stories
January 2007 Update

From all of us associated with THISTLE & BROOM our very best wishes for a bright and prosperous New Year.  If you are new to our efforts, and many of you are, THISTLE & BROOM requires some explanation of what it is.  If you’ve read some of this someplace on our site before feel free to skip ahead.  

In November 2002 I set foot in Scotland for the very first time.  For some 17 years I had put this trip off because at some visceral level I knew by going my life would change forever.  Upon my reluctant return to the States I spent some eighteen months conducting exhaustive research, a few points follow. Tourism makes up some 27% of Scotland’s GDP, but in a post 9/11 economy the country took a painful 11% hit against its tourism revenues.  VisitScotland statistics offer that the average stay in Scotland is a mere three days, as such visitors are not getting to the Highlands and Islands or perhaps even to the Borders (and certainly not to any of the locations shown below).  35,000 textile jobs had been lost in the previous decade due to consolidation and competition in the Far East and Eastern Europe.  More than 50% of the population of Scotland works for the government in some capacity or another.  Incomes in Scotland’s Central Belt (between Glasgow and Edinburgh) are substantially higher than any other area of the country, and whilst the British Government pegs poverty at £19,000 per annum for a family of four, the Scottish Executive and Scottish Arts Council maintain that the average artisan (same family of four) in Scotland earns a mere £9,000 per annum. With a shrinking population of about 4.5 million people (about the size of Greater Boston where I had lived for 8 years) it was pretty clear to me that putting a mere £200 a month (equal to a 1/3 of their average annual income) into each artisan’s hands would have a tremendously positive impact on the economy of the whole country.

Perhaps if I had found a brooch made of Scottish gold on that first trip none of this would have come about – but in spite of being a pretty good shopper I failed to realise my objective of purchasing a tangible and precious reminder of the emotions triggered by this amazing country.  And then it struck me, if I couldn’t find this illusive brooch then how many of those three-day visitors couldn’t find what they longed to find?  I completely recognise that Scottish gold is hardly the souvenir sought by the average visitor to the Royal Mile, but here’s the point, there are lots of truly beautiful (and inexpensive) things made in Scotland that never make to the Royal Mile (whilst lots of kitsch made elsewhere certainly does).  With the fall off in tourism if people weren’t going to visit then why not bring the Scotland I had fallen in love with to them – wherever they might live.  I am often called a romantic bleeding-heart, idealistic and passionate but at my core I am a capitalist which might seem to be in stark conflict but as it turns out - it isn’t.  In January of 2003 I wasn’t aware of a moniker for the business model I embraced for THISTLE & BROOM, but I now know it to be either referred to as social entrepreneurship or the social-consciousness-driven private sector.  Simply put, it is recognising social problems and using principles of entrepreneurship to solve those problems.  In contrast, business typically measures performance in terms of profit and return on investment whereas social entrepreneurship measures success in terms of meeting goals which have a positive impact on society. (Please do not take this to mean this is a charity or that I don’t wish for my company to also be enormously successful in financial terms in the long run.)  All that said, THISTLE & BROOM embraces this by providing invitation to participate to those worthy of inclusion at no cost and in leveraging the Fair Trade model (offering immediate electronic payment 66% of the price plus shipping costs to most of our trading partners) for items that are either difficult to acquire based upon their geographic location, luxurious in nature, i.e. limited production, laboriously hand-crafted or rare in material composition, or a combination thereof, but all, without exception are sourced from within Scotland’s borders.  That doesn’t mean that everything offered through THISTLE & BROOM is expensive as our price point starts at a very reasonable £8.50.  To truly understand the possibilities which can be brought to bear on the Scottish economy, the next section, especially for vociferous readers, will be of interest. I am always happy to answer any questions you have so feel free to drop me a note.

As many of you likely did, I received books for Christmas.  Some of which simply sparkled in front of me as validation of what we’ve been trying to accomplish the last couple of years with our effort here at THISTLE & BROOM.  The most precious of these was given to me by my nieces EJ, Katie and Julia (and their parents) and is entitled Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus who founded Grameen Bank and was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize (click here to watch the ceremony and his lecture).  In 1976 Dr. Yunus in a simple gesture designed to lift a handful of people out of penury, each earning about two cents a day (not a typographical error), lent forty-two people a total of 865 taka (less than $27 USD or £14).  The woman who inspired his initial loan needed a mere twenty-two cents of credit (rather than borrow from the money lenders each day) so that she might sell her products in a free market environment and realise the full retail price paid by the consumer to support herself and her three children.  That twenty-two cent loan has been parlayed into a bank of international renown, owned by the very people (93%) it serves and with these ridiculously tiny loans has lent more than 174.78 billion takas ($3.9 billion USD or £2.02 billion) enjoying a 98% recovery rate on its loans, employing a staff of almost 12,000 operating out of 1,181 branches and servicing people in 42,127 villages.  This is perfect example of social entrepreneurship and what my junior high school geography teacher Mr. Meredith would have identified as ‘the pebble in the pond theory’.  While Banker to the Poor inspires me to new levels of success for Scotland and THISTLE & BROOM two other books formed the practical foundation of my business plan. The first by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point and the second by Boston Consulting Group senior analysts Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske called Trading Up.  All of these books serve to underscore that our choices can influence the global economy in unimagined ways and that our heightened awareness can bring about social changes.  I invite your further consideration of all three.

On the subject of books - Gavin MacDougall the Director of Edinburgh-based Luath Press contacted THISTLE & BROOM about using a Greyfriars Antiques brooch as part of the cover art for Katharine Stewart’s new book Women of the Highlands (you can click through to the Luath Press site to purchase if you’d like).

The brooch, (seen above), is a one-of-kind swivel spring-pin penannular style of late Victorian period of engraved silver and set with faceted natural whisky coloured Cairngorms and Montrose Agates. For those interested it is still available if you are thinking in advance about Valentine’s Day. 

Also for Valentine’s Day I would like to offer a couple of thoughtful and modestly priced suggestions, one for him and one for her – both in the under £40 category. 

For a mere £25.50 (including a lovely yet fully recyclable presentation box and shipping) we offer the perfect gift for lovers of Shakespeare, Scottish culture, the woods or hand thrown and decorated pottery – Uig Pottery’s astonishing Birnam quaich.  Named for the famed ‘walking woods’ in MacBeth and located outside of Dunkeld (Perthshire) each Birnam quaich is formed by hand on a wheel and decorated with a unique glaze that ‘runs’ during firing so as to look like trees and their canopies in a forest.  Each one will be modestly different, but share Celtic Knotwork adornment on the lugs.  Uig Pottery’s founder and master potter Alan Freestone is shown below getting ready to open one of his kilns. He’s gradually bringing the internal temperatures down from over 1200 degrees to room temperature so that the newly fired pottery doesn’t explode.  There can be nothing more romantic than toasting your love and the trust of one another, or gifting to your groomsmen to thank them for joining you at your wedding, than lifting a quaich and passing it between you.  Slainte Mhath, to your very good health.

Even with global warming, winter in Scotland is a time for storm-tossed seas and what could be more synonymous with those storms than the kelp left behind on her incredible beaches? I find the whole range of seaweed absolutely fascinating but clearly Jan Crocker (surrounded by the sea as she and her family are) of Papa Westray in the Orkney Island chain takes greater inspiration from what Scotland’s wildest weather leaves behind.  All I can say is that December must have been particularly violent as just LOOK at what Jan created while hunkered down over the Christmas holiday! I just received the photos today, 5 January, so this is really news-breaking!

Speaking of Christmas we were obviously delighted with the following excerpts of emails we received in conjunction with two different orders for Jan’s Kelp Scarves –

“I found out about Thistle and Broom from my daughter, who is very keen on being as environmentally friendly as possible. I imagine she found your site scouring the Internet for environmentally friendly companies. As a consequence she along with my wife placed the Kelp Scarves on their Christmas Wish Lists.”

“The scarf was certainly the most unique gift of the season. My sister really loved it and everyone else was impressed by it as well. I was shocked that it made if here by Christmas.” (A reference that our most charming young male client in Connecticut waited until the 11th of December to order and Air Sure actually managed to deliver his sisters’ – truly gorgeous - pink, blue and lavender Kelp Scarf before Christmas.)

First let me address the environmentally friendly aspect of Jan’s efforts. Each of these fabulous, unique scarves is made of old wool jumpers! You know, that favourite pink cashmere one that your husband (in doing you a ‘favour’) accidentally put in the washing machine with the blue jeans thus shrinking it to the size of a newborn child? Or that vintage Fair Isle that has been worn so much that the elbow patches won’t hold? Yep, those jumpers!  She works with a broker and magically stocks arrive via mail boat to her home in the Orkney Islands where she systematically sorts for contrasting texture and colour or compatible colour, cuts them strategically apart, sews them back together and then chucks them into the wash to gently felt them so they don’t unravel.  Priced at £38.00, plus shipping, these one-of-a-kind beauties come in a range of colours designed to please every woman (or girl) on your Valentine list.  Snugly warm, kind of sexy or fun (depending on your state of mind and personal style) Jan’s Kelp Scarves are a perennial favourite at THISTLE & BROOM and are ideal to chase the chill of February, March and April away. We only show six at any time on the THISTLE & BROOM site so if you are interested in one of the above Kelp Scarves and don’t see it drop me a note and we’ll get you sorted.  

I am delighted to report that I spent some time with Alastair McIntyre, founder and director of Electric Scotland, in Toronto over the Christmas holiday.  As always Alastair’s passion and commitment to his efforts to unite Scots, Scots descendants and Scotia-philes the world over is inspiring.  Knowing that THISTLE & BROOM only sells products tied to some aspect of Scotland and everything is actually made within her borders Alastair graciously asked me if I would write a monthly column framing the history, the artisan and the product they are making as offered through THISTLE & BROOM for the Electric Scotland readership (some 1.2 million visitors each month).  The photo essays will be no more than 3000 words and will be located in a special section of the Electric Scotland website called THISTLE & BROOM Stories.  January will feature a re-print of the story I wrote for a Connecticut glossy magazine called INK which can be found here.  February’s piece will cover the world famous Lewis Chessmen and Rose Cottage Industries who make the premier reproductions of the wee men in the world (not just my opinion, the National Museum of Scotland stocks their wares).  March I am still mulling over… Obviously I will be providing you with a hyperlink to these essays in future THISTLE & BROOM Updates.

What we’re doing is a huge shift in the normal paradigm associated with both e-commerce and the sale of luxurious products.  No one has ever attempted to create a definitive luxury brand for Scotland before (though certainly there are lots of companies which produce and sell luxurious products in Scotland), certainly no one has ever attempted to apply Fair Trade values to any luxury brand (regardless of location), as most luxury brands will source product (cost effectively) from suppliers on a global basis to put under their label THISTLE & BROOM is also unique in only offering products from within one county – Scotland. So when you combine all this with essentially a made-to-order, no inventory – no warehouse structure to keep costs down it takes a bit of luck, encouragement in evenly applied does, a lot of fortitude and nerves of steel to launch, continue and ultimately meet people who share your vision.  Finally, after what will be three years on 13 February I am particularly thrilled to share with you that I have the opportunity to be expanding my autumn 2006 meetings with banks and potential investors to come (ever so) close to realising partners who can help us build a global brand as ubiquitous to Scotland as Hermes, or Gucci or Burberry is to each of their countries but with a socially conscious centre to our business.  I fly out of Toronto on 30 January for Glasgow and onto Edinburgh with a new Power Point Presentation and updated business plan in hand.  Your emotional support and patronage has allowed this chapter to even take place – thank you.

With warmest regards,

Teresa A. Fritschi

Managing Director / Chief Creative Officer

+44(0) 131208 0923

THISTLE & BROOM is a Fair Trade modeled e-commerce initiative based in Edinburgh. We were legally incorporated with Companies House and VAT registered in Scotland in April of 2004 and commenced trading in May of 2005.

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