A major campaign to boost the sales of the Harris Tweed, the ancient Scottish cloth famously worn by Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and former Dr Who Matt Smith, has been launched in the US.
The new crusade is aimed at promoting the cloth as the “sustainable fabric to the world”, based on its heritage, style and durability.
At an event in New York, former UK Trade Minister Brian Wilson said that the fabric “ticks every box of sustainability”.
Mr Wilson is chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides based at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis, which was recently named UK Textile Company of the Year.
He said: “Everyone loves Harris Tweed but relatively few people know the story that makes it so special. We hope this campaign will encourage interest not just in the product but also the place from which it comes and the process which creates it”.
Speaking at the new Glasgow Caledonian University campus in New York, he added: “I doubt if there is another brand in the world with the fame of Harris Tweed which rests on the skills of so few people located within a single community.
“The key fact is that Harris Tweed survives and flourishes in the Outer Hebrides because an Act of Parliament says it cannot be made anywhere else. That raises questions of global importance about the rights of communities to protect their indigenous industries”.
Mr Wilson and Harris Tweed creative director, Mark Hogarth, were participating in a discussion on the qualities of Harris Tweed with Doug Shriver, senior fabric specialist with Brooks Brothers, who have been using the fabric since 1932, and Esquire magazine fashion director, Nick Sullivan.
Cara Smyth, GCU vice-principal for the New York campus, said: “This was the launch event in a series of high-level dialogues about fashion and sustainability. The obvious place to start was with Harris Tweed which is a wonderful product with Scottish heritage and a close affinity to this city”.
Mr Hogarth said: “Fashion and style are no longer exclusively about how things look. The ethics and sustainability of how they are produced are hugely important in today’s market.
“For Harris Tweed, the luxury lies in the complexity of the process. We have a unique story to tell the world and this campaign will ensure that many more consumers understand what makes Harris Tweed so special”.
Lorna MacAulay, chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, said: “We very much welcome this campaign which will reinforce the resurgence in the industry. Sometimes we are so close to the story that we forget how unusual and special it is in today’s world of mass production and fast fashion”.
Harris Tweed is the only fabric in the world which is protected by its own Act of Parliament.
The Harris Tweed Act, updated at Westminster in 1993, guarantees that genuine Harris Tweed can only be made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
Harris Tweed must be “handwoven by the islanders at their own homes in the Outer Hebrides”. This guarantees that it remains a cottage industry allowing self-employed weavers to determine their own work schedule, traditionally to fit with the demands of crofting agriculture.
There are only 140 Harris Tweed weavers, most of them passing down skills from one generation to the next. The recent revival of the industry is slowly transforming the age profile of the weavers, many of whom are in their sixties and seventies. The newest approved weaver is 19 years of age.
The Orb symbol which authenticates Harris Tweed is the oldest British trade mark in continuous use. The Harris Tweed Authority works around the world to protect the name Harris Tweed and the Orb from unauthorized use.
Harris Tweed is made from pure virgin wool. Unlike most other fabrics, the wool is dyed rather than the yarn or finished cloth, giving Harris Tweed its depth and richness of colour.