Harris tweed industry 'on verge of collapse'

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SCOTLAND'S world-famous Harris tweed industry is near collapse over the "Primark prices" being paid for cloth, its main industry body has claimed.

The Harris Tweed Weavers' Association has revealed that most of the remaining 130 weavers on the Hebridean island are earning just 130 a week.

Harris tweed, a protected trademark, has to be made from virgin Scottish wool spun and dyed in the outer Hebrides and woven by hand in the crofter's own home.

But now, the industry body says the cottage industry is less than a year away from collapse. Aneas Maclean, chairman of tweed association, said: "We knew last year would be traumatic, but if we have another similar year there will be no weavers left and no industry. The weavers are on the breadline.

"The tweed is selling at Primark prices. It is being sold at 16 a metre, while it needs to be more like 25 a metre."

Weavers are paid about 2.50 a metre, and many have little or no work. In December 2006, Yorkshireman Brian Haggas paid 2 million for the world's biggest producer of Harris tweed, the Stornoway-based Kenneth Mackenzie Group, and now controls 95 per cent of the Harris tweed market.

But enterprise minister Jim Mather remains upbeat about the future of Harris tweed, which has been featured in the winter collections of the leading designers Vivienne Westwood, Valentino and Donna Karan.

He said: "We are committed to establishing the right business conditions to help our companies and we do all we can to support key industries such as Harris tweed. Harris tweed is hugely important to the Western Isles economy and we will continue to support the industry as it drives towards a bright and sustainable future, for the isles and for Scotland."

Fewer than 30 years ago there were up to 2,000 full- and part-time weavers in the islands. But a collapse in the US market resulted in many leaving the industry. In its heyday in the 1960s, the tweed sold more than seven million yards per year, but that has fallen to fewer than one million today.

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