Clare Campbell CA: The beginnings of Prickly Thistle
Clare Campbell CA, ICAS Conference speaker and founder of bespoke tartan and textile company Prickly Thistle speaks about coping with loss and persevering to reach her goals.
Clare’s story is rooted in Ross-shire where she was born and grew up. She qualified as a CA in 2003 with Scott Oswald (acquired by Tenon in 2001), which she explains gave her “a great commercial grounding and really opened my eyes to what businesses do”.
She later spent five years as company accountant with quarry masters Pat Munro (Alness) Ltd, before a desire to go back into practice drew her to Saffery Champness, where she was a senior manager for three years, largely responsible for assisting landward estates and Highland SMEs. A move into oil and gas followed, acting as finance director with MSIS Group, providers of onshore and offshore training, consultancy and project management.
It was Clare’s work with a Highland interior architecture and soft furnishings company that awakened her passion for tartan as a design structure. This passion and life philosophy shaped by a personal loss earlier in her life underlined her resolve to pursue her dream when the opportunity arose.
She says: “I was 20 and in the middle of my studies when I lost my brother. The realisation that life is too short came then, and has become a deeper part of me over the years.
“I’d achieved my immediate goals at 30 of being married, having children, becoming a CA and doing all these different things, but I’ve always looked for something more and the next challenge. It was a case of taking that journey and everything I’d gained and saying now is the right time to do this.
“I asked myself how I could apply the skills I’ve gleaned from other successful organisations to create a business that gives people around the world an emotive experience and champions an economic uprising for the Highlands in one of its most iconic industries.”
The beginnings of a brand
The groundwork for Prickly Thistle involved a year of extensive market research, with Clare travelling up and down the country to determine competitors, trends and whether the business would ultimately be viable.
She says: “I was able to look at not only the creative outputs but also drill right down into the commerciality in terms of cost base, skills transfer, new markets and how I would structure.
“I don’t have a background in textiles but I actually see that as a real curve ball in the sense I don’t know the traditional rules. For me barriers do not exist when driving some form of innovation into the industry. Like in accountancy when you first meet a new client, I’ve come in with a fresh eye and an eager approach.”
Inherent in that is Clare’s wish to be a disruptor in the industry and to shake off any preconceptions about the traditional conventions of tartan. It’s a concept that’s already resonated with Clare’s clients, who vary from high net worth individuals from all over the globe to companies such as Skyscanner, Loch Tomatin Distillery and Belladrum Estate.
The strength of the CA
Clare is also keen to share her entrepreneurial experiences with others and has already worked with numerous organisations across the UK business landscape, including Open to Export, Entrepreneurial Scotland, Investing Women and Scottish EDGE.
Above all she emphasises the solid business grounding her CA qualification has given her. She says: “No matter what you go on to do the CA training will be beneficial. I genuinely feel that way, even more so for my experiences as a practising accountant in different forms.
“I think there can be pressure, or a trend, nowadays to finish university and immediately create the next unicorn, but I would advocate that taking the time to become a CA is not going to delay your career in any way. I’ve met so many people starting a business who wish they were accountants.”