Regina “Jeanie” Davan ’03
Queen of Kilts
Regina “Jeanie” Davan ’03 first enrolled at UW-Madison as a pre-optometry student, but she found herself stitching a new career path years later. She had left school to become a web designer, and then she worked in an optometry office before deciding to finish her degree. The semester after she returned to campus as an adult student, one of her two sons was diagnosed with leukemia.
While looking for classes with flexible attendance requirements, Davan discovered the theatre and drama department’s costume design program, and it seemed like the ideal fit. She credits Gail Brassard, an associate professor of costume design, and Jim Greco, the costume studio supervisor, for guiding her journey to graduation. “My son was sick for three and a half years as I was going through school,” she says. “They gave me so much help and leeway. I knew from the start that they believed in me.”
Davan earned her degree the same month that her son finished treatment. She was already taking on sewing projects on the side when a friend asked her to create a kilt, and the idea for a new business was born. “I just became obsessed with it,” she says.
Since 2006, Alt.Kilt has established a thriving — if surprising — business as the only custom, contemporary kilt maker in the world. The company, now one of only four commercial kilt makers in the country, has grown to a team of five that makes some 350 kilts each year. Davan puts the finishing touches on all of them, and she personally handles the more challenging ones, such as those made from leather or Kevlar.
“One gentleman sent me his karate [uniform],” she says, recalling one of her favorite projects. “I turned that into a kilt with a custom pocket for his nunchakus.”
Who’s buying these one-of-a-kind kilts? A wide range of (mostly) men, she says, including pipes-and-drums teams, steampunk aficionados, gamers, nightclub owners, and more. Most are based on the U.S. coasts, though Davan also ships regularly to New Zealand and Australia. Many are repeat buyers. “I have guys who have bought ten, twelve kilts,” she says. “I have some customers who no longer wear pants.” The kilts start at around $200 and can go as high as $700, depending on customization.
Davan proudly spots her creations at various events such as trade shows, comic cons, and steampunk gatherings — and on the street.
“I like coming up with new designs and seeing what works,” she says. “And I can stop conversation anywhere by saying what I do for a living.”
Published in the Spring 2016 issue