The Kilt Lady
Deep in the heart of the Canadian Praries sits a slice of Celtic soul. Dawn and Rick McNally of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan are the proprietors of The Kilt Lady, a young company specializing in custom-designed Celtic-wear and wares. Recently spoke with Rick about both the couple’s longstanding passion for Celtic culture and their newfound profession.
What is your own background/ethnic heritage?
Both of us have deep Scottish and Irish roots, along with English. Dawn’s family has some English, her Father was Murray Montague, his mother was Livingston and Dawns Great Grandmother was Murray, and a Great Grandmother Macinnes. Her mother’s name was Ellis (Irish) and, Dawns Grandmother was Ritz (German). She also has great grandmothers McKinnon and MacFarland. Her mother, father and both Grandparents were born in Canada. I am the first generation born in Canada, my mother’s maiden name was Hopper and my Grandmother was Douglas. My Father and Grand Father were born in England; they probably left Ireland as a result of the famine as my grandfather had a brother born in 1848 in Ireland and a sister born in England in 1851. My father’s side has all Irish names, Flynn, and Flately are the only names I am aware of.
What inspired you to start the business?
Dawn was a nurse for 25+ years and had a back injury. She could no longer be a nurse so she was looking for something else to do. I was watching a TV show with her Dad about the history of Scotland and the way the old kilts were made, and how difficult it is to find a truly had sewn kilt. We both simultaneously said to her, why don’t you make kilts? She has always had an artistic flair and a perfectionist in anything she creates. People brought Scottish made kilts to her for alterations and have said her kilts are as good or better. I retired (accountant) at about the same time and do the books and research/source products to complement the kilts.
What are the challenges?
The challenges include competing with mass produced kilts/accessories available. Price is always a factor and there are many products out there that may appear to be similar at a lower price. And the kilts that are advertised as “hand sewn”, the customer never really knows what this means, it could mean anything from a small amount of the kilt to the entire kilt. Differentiating Dawns kilts is difficult, as they are 100% hand sewn and are heirloom quality. It is also a challenge to find good quality accessories to offer our customers at a competitive price. We need to reach people that want quality and can tell the difference. We offer only accessories that are made in Scotland or Canada only.
What are the rewards?
Dawn says she finds the greatest reward in the reaction of her customers when they see their kilt for the first time. She builds a relationship with each customer, through the process of researching the appropriate tartan, determining the type and quality of a kilt they require and through the construction of the kilt. We offer kilts by Locharron also in different price ranges and she explains the differences in quality of the various kilts, I don’t think “pride” is the proper word for the feeling she has when she completes a kilt which is absolutely perfect.
What is the company’s core mandate?
The company’s key mandate is to provide each customer with personal service. She doesn’t believe ordering a quality garment like a kilt on the internet from a drop down menu is right, so she contacts every customer before, during and after the construction of their kilt. People appreciate actually talking to the person making their kilt. She has had Irish, Scottish and Welsh customers who have been told they can only get a kilt in certain tartans, Dawn actually researches what they want and contacts the Mills, we only deal with Mills in Scotland, Marton Mills in England, and Cambrian Woollen Mills in Wales. She provides advice and information whether they purchase anything or not. If they decide to purchase anything from a key ring to a kilt we try to provide the best quality we can at a fair price.
What are your key products?
The key products are the personalized service and assurance of quality, and of course the kilts. She makes the knife pleat but she also makes the older box pleated kilt, which many people are not familiar with.
What is your marketplace?
Our market has been local, meaning Saskatchewan so far. We now have the web site, and we will be attending as many Highland Games and Festivals as possible to show people the quality of the products we offer. The market we are catering to are the people who are looking for quality.
How do you differ from your competition?
The way we differ is the personal service that each customer receives, we will respond to any and all messages on our web site.
Are we doing enough to preserve & promote Celtic culture generally?
I don’t think we do enough, at least here on the prairies. The only time you hear anything Celtic is St. Patrick’s Day or St Andrews Day. When we attend festivals we have a lot of young people who have a Celtic heritage, are very interested, usually when they are getting married, but know absolutely nothing about it. I think we need to generate interest with the younger people through Social Media, which I know nothing about.
What’s next on the company agenda?
So far we have basically only offered kilts and Highland Accessories, but soon we will be adding more Irish and Welsh products in the future. We also want to attend more Highland Games.