Founded in 2014 as the Tartan Blanket Company, co-founders Emma and Fergus Macdonald wanted to create a business that had a positive impact on the planet while also being stylish. As the fast-growing retailer transitions from gifting to homeware, accessories and fashion, CEO Emma Macdonald speaks to Retail Week about its repositioning, its rebranding, and why she’s opted to sacrifice rapid growth for sustainability.
What inspired you to start TBCo?
“I was in London working in merchandising and buying but both my husband and I are Scottish so we wanted to move back to Edinburgh but there wasn’t much in that industry up here. He convinced me to start a business. We began as the Tartan Blanket Company and started sourcing blankets and scarves from Scottish mills and selling them in a more modern way. Then the brand started to gain traction and grow from there.”
You rebranded recently, why?
“We realised the brand had evolved quite a lot over the last few years. We’ve gotten much more focused on our sustainability angle and developing more design-led products, versus the tartan products.
“In the last few years, we’ve started stocking Liberty, Anthropologie and Nordstrom. So we moved away from that Scottish side of the business, which we love, but felt was limited. As TBCo, we feel like we’re able to branch out more so we’ve launched a lot of new categories that speak more to the design and sustainability aspect: we’ve got pyjamas, cushions, tableware, and we’re growing our ranges in fashion and home accessories.
“Now we’ve got this new focus: warmer people on a cooler planet. We got B Corp certified, which was really big, and we also have a positive impact pledge, which is 1% for people and 1% for planet, which means 2% of all revenue goes to charity.”
How big is the brand now?
“Our headcount is at 47. We do all of our marketing in-house, we’ve got our design team in-house, we’ve got basically everything except for manufacturing done in-house. I think we’re quite lucky in Scotland as there are not that many jobs in this industry, so we’ve managed to get such amazing people to work with the brand because they’re moving back from London and looking for a role in Scotland. We’re also just over 90% female, so it’s a really strong women-led brand.”
You’re moving away from gifting, what’s driven that?
“Before Covid-19, we were growing 20% to 30% year on year consistently but we were quite focused on blankets and scarves. When Covid set in, we saw huge growth because we focused on what the customer was wanting and a lot of that was around gifting. Gifting was great during Covid and it was great to pivot to that but actually, that’s not the thing that we want to focus on long term and not what’s going to get us to the next stage.”
Where do you see the growth in the future?
“We’ve got ambitious plans for where we want to go and how we want to grow. We’re seeing a lot of international growth at the moment, we’re about 50% UK and 50% international now, but we’re just scratching the surface. The US is our biggest market and that has huge potential and we also see there’s huge potential both in fashion and home accessories; just being able to add those touches of colour to your home or your wardrobe.”
What’s been your best business decision so far?
“One of the best decisions we’ve ever made is never having taken investment. I think sometimes we and other people have questioned if that’s the best thing and we’ve been approached about taking investment, but not doing it has allowed us to have full control over the decisions for the brand.
“Our decisions are focused on that positive impact and being profitable. Sometimes we’ve sacrificed growth to maintain a sustainable base, so we have money to invest in continued growth. It also means we don’t just drive this crazy growth that has nothing underneath when things don’t go as smoothly.”