The founder of a Scottish company that makes Ukrainian-design tartan kilts that have sold thousands across the globe says they’ve been spotted on the battlefield where soldiers are fighting invading Kremlin forces. But the dream of owner Margo Page is to dress the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in a kilt, which she says in her own words is “an emotive fabric, that courts nostalgia, empowers identity and is a symbol of alliance and defiance”.
There was a time when it was illegal for Scots to wear the Highland Dress. Following the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland – an attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne – the Scots were banned from wearing the kilt under the Dress Act in 1746 – a ban which lasted for 35 long years. That’s why Scots regard the kilt as a potent political weapon.
Margo Page, who runs Great Scot (Scotland), which is based in the Highlands of Keith, Moray, told me: “We have had negative comments about our ‘ Ukraine Forever’ tartan kilt, which is a fusion of the colours of the Scottish and the Ukrainian flags, that Ukrainians don’t wear tartans. Even the Russian state media have attacked us. It is the power of the kilt. I can tell you that we have soldiers on the Ukrainian battlefield right now wearing kilts, one with bagpipes, piping every morning.”
When Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, Margo felt she had to do something. She wanted to do more than just offer a donation and then forget about Ukraine, like so many other companies have done.
Possessing a strong social media platform of 150,000 followers, she asked them and came up with the answer of creating something more enduring, a Ukraine Forever tartan.
“It takes us weeks to design a tartan, but we were going to do it right now,” she said. The idea was put to customers and the pre-orders started to come in and then the weaving started.
“We thought we would get a couple of orders, but we had governments on the phone, diplomatic offices on the phone, my God, everyone was phoning,” she said. “We had orders from all over the world, and it was the stories that people were telling us as they were ordering, that had me in tears.”
Some customers from Australia, USA, Japan and Europe have been ordering the blue and yellow tartan to be made into curtains and others, surprisingly, into wedding dresses.
There was interest from the American Scottish Highland Games, who wanted to do a fundraiser. World football body FIFA rang them to ask if they wanted sponsorship. Angus Robertson, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, wanted to present something tartan to the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko.
Margo said: “I got a lovely message saying he had the scarf round his neck and he stood there so full of pride. We are not going to change the world, but it’s the thank you for Scotland standing with Ukraine, that when this is all over for the rest of history that it is a symbol of the alliance, defiance and unity.”
Margo has raised £6,000 to date, but is hoping to raise around £20,000 from the sale of the Ukrainian kilts, which will go to the Disaster Emergency Committee Ukraine Fund.
One of the many positive effects of producing the Ukrainian tartan, which has now been officially recognised by the Scottish Registry of Tartans, and appeared in the Ukrainian version of Vogue (15 March, 2022 edition), has been that it has provided much-needed work for many of the small mills in the area.
“I’m not going to China to knock off tartan. It’s not going to happen,” said Margo. “I don’t want these small communities to die and all these techniques would never be seen again,” she says, which is something Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, supports.
In her office, Margo has a life-size cardboard cut-out of Zelensky whose face is plastered with kisses. She has great admiration for what he is doing in Ukraine. “Every time I watch him on TV, I think he is the most wonderful human being,” she said.
Ukraine is always on her mind. Margo Page has a life-size cardboard cut-out of President Zelensky in her office. Photo: Great Scot (Scotland)She has recently employed two female refugees from Kharkiv, sisters-in-law Lisaveta and Bohdana Karlova, who have been modelling her blue and yellow kilt and are helping Margo with the Ukrainian project. The girls speak Ukrainian and every day when they come to work they give her one Ukrainian word and she gives them one Scottish word in return.
“I am fighting with the weapons I know,” she says. “I’m going to give a kilt to Zelenksy.”
I ask her whether she would go to Kyiv if she got an invitation from him. “Are you kidding me? I would go there with an AK-47 (rifle), a kilt and one long ladies kilt for his wife, and how stunning they would be. I would pay for the trip myself,” she replies defiantly. “I would then tell him that he is an Honorary Scotsman.”
Ukrainians have a great sense of humour, and Margo knows that Zelensky was a former actor and comic. Could she explain to him that a true Scot doesn’t wear anything under his kilt?
She ponders and replies: “I would tell him that he needs to be fitted by a Scotswoman. I would take him to the side room – it’s the best part of the job – and dress him properly.
“I would explain at every single point the significance of every part of the regalia he is wearing. He would have the full shoulder pads and sporran, and the black knife that is as sharp as hell. I would love to see him, as I am his number one fan in Scotland.”
For the time being, the people queuing up for Ukrainian kilts, oversized scarfs and ties are diplomats, high-profile footballers and even members of the British Royal Family, though exactly who is a closely-guarded secret.
“Those who can’t afford to buy our kilts, buy a metre of cloth so that they can make something for their grandchild. Others ask for cut-offs.”
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has been given a piece of Ukrainian tartan, and other members of the Scottish Parliament were gifted facemasks, brooches and ties in Ukrainian tartan.
“We do the full regalia to regimental standard,” said Margo. “We are the best kilt makers in Scotland, though not the biggest.”
When Margo’s cardboard cut-out is not in her office, she has him looking out of her front window. One day, she might turn round and find the real McCoy (real thing) standing right next to her. That would certainly be a dream come true.
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