COLUMBIA — A University of South Carolina business venture-turned-educational project stands to gain profit and popularity through a tartan branding initiative.
The Tartan Apparel Project is a collaboration between the College of Retail, Hospitality and Sport Management and clothing company Collegiate Tartan Apparel to design and market a distinctive plaid pattern to be used on university merchandise.
Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management professor Marianne Bickle, who is leading the tartan effort, says the project is really not about profit, but rather building community.
“This is truly meant to be something to support fans, to build the brand and to engage our students,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean USC can’t benefit monetarily. Last year, the university made $3.3 million on trademarked merchandise alone, according to Ken Corbett with the Trademark and Licensing Office.
Michael Cannon of Collegiate Tartan Apparel said that the University of West Virginia, one of the 17 schools it has designed tartans for, has made more than $100,000 by selling just three of its items. He said he expects the company can offer a much broader range of products in South Carolina.
Plans are already in the works to develop a lightweight version of a tartan lambs wool scarf — one of Collegiate Tartan Apparel’s best-selling products — to accommodate warmer Southern temperatures.
USC’s colors also lend themselves well to formalwear, Cannon said, meaning bow ties and cummerbunds could be a hot item for sorority and fraternity formals or even Gamecock weddings.
Collegiate Tartan Apparel originally reached out to USC specifically because of its retail curriculum, said Michael Cannon, who works at the Greensboro, N.C., company.
“Students help do the designing, and we take that idea and bring it to market,” Cannon said. “It’s much more of a collaborative effort.”
Retail students are helping design the marketing messages and promote the tartan, which would make its way onto everything from blankets and backpacks to ties and cummerbunds.
While traditionally used to identify specific clans in Scottish, Irish and Welsh regions, today tartans are popular with businesses, military groups and commemorative events.
Voting is now under way for USC students, faculty, alumni and fans to choose among the three tartans. The choices are “Old Cocky,” “Tartan and Feather” and “Royal Rooster,” each with varying plaid patterns of white, black and garnet. Once a tartan is chosen on March 11, it will be recorded with the USC Trademark and Licensing Office and the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Garnet and black tartan products will be available online at the Collegiate Tartan Apparel website, with future plans for the merchandise to be sold at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, including the campus bookstore.
“It would be a great niche for a brick-and-mortar store here to have,” said Perry Lancaster, manager of Brittons, a high-end clothing store in Columbia.
Lancaster heard that USC was going to have an official tartan, and plans to pursue it and get it in his store. Brittons planned to offer merchandise with the official state of South Carolina tartan, which was adopted in 2003, at its bow tie trunk show this weekend with retailer Randy Hanauer.
A USC tartan would be a great addition to that, Lancaster said.
“We would definitely be interested,” he said. “We have been dressing students and alumni for over 60 years.” The opportunity to sell official university tartan ties and bow ties “would be amazing.”