Identity of a highlander

What do you think of your identity?  Is it mainly your nationality, religion, the colour of hair or skin that you feel reflects your identity?  Recently I took a trip to Ireland which made me ask these questions often.  Their culture is open and friendly, steeped in history, religion and traditions.  There is a strong link with Scottish and Irish people I find, a connection but a connection I feel is lost. We don’t really speak of it.  Alike in our folklore, traditional music, gaelic language, sports and even our tragic histories all link us.  But why do we not have a close relationship as you would think? 

The older I am getting the more I find identity is on my mind and at the moment everything I watch and read keeps bringing it back to this subject.

Do you embrace your identity through clothes?  Do you think it's right to show your identity or do you think it's a problem that segregates and causes fear?  Is this damaging or is it a beautiful thing - embracing all the many cultures and identities that make the human race so colourful?  Whether it be a kilt or burqa, shouldn't we be allowed to wear what we want, in order to show our culture? 

When I was younger I really disliked tartan, but since working with it over the last few years, I now adore it.  It represents your clan and is so bold - it grabs attention!  At the moment tartan is on trend, which I despise! I’m passionate about not following trends as they encourage fast fashion and in the end pollute the world (clothing being dumped is now the second largest polluter, just behind the oil industry). All this just so we can keep constantly up to date with current fashion trends?  My work is slow fashion, using quality fabrics and looking away from trends.  To have something timeless. Why should we buy something that is out of fashion the next month?  I completely disagree with a lot of the fashion industry - fast fashion being a big part of it.  So tartan will be here long after it leaves the 'fashion scene' if I have anything to do with it. Ok rant for fast fashion is now over!

Another big promotion of Scotland which links with identity is the recent Outlander global domination. What do you think of when you think of Scotland, Outlander? Braveheart? I’m very grateful to Diana Gabaldon for putting Scotland back on the map so to speak.  I feel we drown under a union jack flag, television and news, all eager to make us British.  Trying to give us the identity of london buses, the queen and red post boxes.  I'm sure many might disagree with me, but these are my own thoughts as my own identity couldn't be further from this.  Born and raised on a very rural west coast of the scottish highlands - I was surrounded by lochs, hills and many sheep!.  My childhood was pretty free - I recall playing in hay and running barefoot in open fields on endless summer nights.  Gaelic singing, ceilidh dancing, traditional music were a big part of my culture.  However gradually the older I became and turned into a teenager, I became more ashamed and desperate to leave my home and stretch my wings.  Identity for me at that time was in music, which was a connection I had with my father. He used to play guitar and sang in pubs before I was born.  He didn't appreciate traditional scottish music, mainly because he grew up with it and looked to America and the rest of the UK for songs during the 1960s.  His appearance, however always gave him away with his thick red hair, freckles and spoken highland lilt.  I felt the same way about music and I knew my time would come to go into the big world and see everything else, which I did and loved it. Spending years away listening to others backgrounds and avoiding talking about my own.  But after being in other countries, my identity haunted me in some ways - I wanted to come back and understand it more.  It made me see that highlanders in particular are a very shy and suspicious group of people.  It made me wonder why we have this trait?  After looking to history I see that the proud highlander was taken down a peg or two - keeping the highlander 'down' happened on various occasions, stripping us from our culture and identity happened also which I find fascinating if this could be a reason behind how our self confidence shows in today’s society. 

In Scotland we have the highest percentage of redheads, something I think we should be proud of.  But after talking to various redheads and also being a little bit red myself, the older you get the more proud you are of your red hair.  Starting from school and being bullied for your hair colour is a normal thing if you are a redhead. No other hair colour is the butt of jokes.  I wonder why we are made to feel ashamed of something so striking and very rare compared to the rest of the world.  It's just interesting to me what is seen as different is used to take down someone.

Right now identity for me is in designing clothing. To work with tartans and tweeds made by local people from this land, who tell their stories through cloth - and for me to make something special with it telling my story also.

L x

All photographs by me apart from:

Tartan skirt heroine Photography by Gavin MacQueen

Portrait of me in my studio Photography by George Baxter