Stuart Rhys Thomas Stuart Rhys Thomas Share

Rugby. Sheep. And mountains. Is this modern Wales?

18 Jun, 2018

Not so long ago, I was looking to buy a t-shirt. One that somehow linked to Wales. Living as I do in England, I dived onto the internet and typed in the words: “Welsh, T-shirts.” What Google came back with was t-shirts emblazoned with rugby balls, sheep or the word ‘cwtch.’ Available in two colours – red or green.

A while back, a poll on Twitter asked people living outside of Wales what they thought of us.

There were four options:

  • Rugby
  • Sheep
  • Mountains
  • Other

Rugby won.

Most patriotic

These are not isolated experiences and it makes me think about how ‘we’ – Wales – collectively present ourselves to the world. Take international day in Cardiff. An opportunity to showcase Wales on the global stage. Daffodil headdresses. Dragon painted faces. And a sea of red. All in abundance.

There is nothing wrong with this way of expressing our national pride. After all, the Welsh are one of the most patriotic nations in Europe. Ahead of the Italians, the Spanish and the Irish. The question is this. Is this all that we are? 

Displaying Welsh pride in such an overt way is not limited to rugby.

“As a country, Wales boasts some of the best scenery, artists, foods, and artisans, but for a long time, there has only been one way that businesses have marketed themselves: traditionally. Complex Celtic patterns, Welsh ladies at harps or just splashing the packaging with Welsh flags and associations has prevailed among most Welsh brands – as if Wales’ produce is a giant gift shop for visitors.” - Cara Bendon

Wales’ default setting, it seems, is to present itself to the world traditionally – and in many ways, you can’t blame us. A report last year found 8 out of 10 Welsh shoppers would always buy Welsh if the price is right.

What better way to sell your Welshness than the Welsh flag?

A different Wales?

But there is a different Wales. One that is modern, innovative and cool. One where Welsh heritage and traditions are being brought bang up to date. One that is taking the lead on the global stage.

Take Chuckling Goat, for example. Wales has a long and proud history of farming. Farmers and Wales are like salt and pepper. Edwards and Bennett. Burton and Taylor. Chuckling Goat is upholding the Welsh farming tradition – but with a modern twist. They make award-winning kefir and kefir skincare on their goat farm in Ceredigion. With amazing results.

“My son, who has suffered from asthma all his life, has just started his second supply of Kefir. Today, he came through the door and said: “Mum the kefir is working, my asthma is better, I can breathe again, and I am full of energy!” All my life I have worried about this one son… he had asthma so bad that as a nine-year-old, we had to send him to Switzerland (my husband is Swiss) to live in a school in the mountains. He was there for five long years. As a Mother, this was devastating. It saved his life, but he had been held back from schooling and never reached his potential. I want to say thank you for giving us hope of maybe a future for my son.” - Chuckling Goat 

They are not alone.

Modern. Innovative. Cool.

Look hard enough and you will find many more Chuckling Goats. Welsh companies adapting brilliantly to meet the demands of the modern consumer. Using their Welsh heritage and traditions as a springboard for success, and not limited by it.

The Telegraph ran an article not so long ago titled: “How Wales got cool.” Cool places to eat. Cool places to stay. Cool experiences to enjoy.“With so much going on, do you really need to worry about the weather?” they ask. Our weather is sadly cool, too. Last year they offered 24 reasons why holidaying in Wales is better than the Mediterranean.

Seems the ‘cool’ tag is here to stay.

The final word goes to Rough Guides, the ‘tell it like it is” destination publisher.

“Wales often gets short shrift in comparison to its Celtic cousins of Ireland and Scotland. Neither so internationally renowned nor so romantically perceived, the country is usually defined by its male voice choirs and tightly packed pit villages. But there’s far more to the place than the hackneyed stereotypes and, at its best, Wales is the most beguiling part of the British Isles. Although it is the wealth of places to visit – prehistoric sites, crumbling castles and wild landscapes – that brings tourists here in the first place, they often leave championing contemporary Wales.“ - Rough Guides 

It is time to champion and celebrate the ‘other’ Wales. Contemporary Wales. This makes us no less patriotic, no less proud and no less Welsh. We are more than just rugby, sheep and mountains.

Perhaps now is the time we showed this to the rest of the world?

***

GlobalWelsh pioneer Stuart Rhys Thomas was born in Neath. He is now a Director at Masgroves, a communications agency based in Birmingham. He is passionate about contemporary Welsh design and cool, contemporary Welsh brands and he is on a mission to create a movement to profile the best Welsh brands around the world via his new concept 'Cool Welsh Lists'.

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