A MAJOR Chinese textile company has become a shareholder in one of the last three Harris Tweed mills.
The deal between Carloway Mill, on Lewis, and the Shandong Ruyi Technological Group comes after the industry celebrated its most productive year in almost two decades in 2012.
The announcement was widely welcomed last night, though concerns have been raised about the move being pre-emptive to an overall takeover.
The deal follows several months of discussions with one of the world’s largest textile companies, whose HQ is in Jining in eastern China.
Asia is home to the biggest export market for Harris Tweed, with more then 40 per cent of all cloth leaving the Western Isles going to Japan.
More than a million metres of tweed was produced by the three surviving Harris Tweed mills in 2012, the highest level of cloth production since the 1993.
A lawyer specialising in intellectual property (IP), said: “This is a major deal in terms of IP. You have the trademark associated with the Harris Tweed brand, which is a very valuable brand at the moment, particularly in the East.
“If this company now has shares in the mill, then who knows what the future holds.”
Bruce Armitgae, of Carloway Mill, said: “This is a very important announcement not only for the Carloway Mill, but for the Harris Tweed industry and the future economy of the Western Isles.
“Although the industry has developed and grown appreciably over the past three years, this new association with a global textile company is a first for Harris Tweed and will allow the Carloway Mill access to a potentially massive platform to expand its volumes and profitability.
“Shandong Ruyi has a home market place of 1.3 billion people, but it also has a sales presence in 51 countries across the world. This and their extensive knowledge of the textiles industry, together with their ambitions for Harris Tweed make them a highly desirable partner.”
Bahman Mostaghimi, managing director of Shandong Ruyi UK added: “Harris Tweed has been a key player in the history of fashion and indeed you cannot separate Scotland from Harris Tweed or Harris Tweed from Scotland.
“We are very proud to be working with this heritage and introduce it to China.”
The mill has recently rebranded to The Carloway Mill Harris Tweed.
Bosses plan to expand over the next few months by extending buildings and installing new machinery.
Western Isles MP Angus Macneil said: “I know the owners of Carloway Mill have been working very hard to develop their business and bring jobs to the island.
“This is a potentially fabulous reward for their efforts and gives a great opportunity to Harris Tweed, our islands and indeed Scotland, to make a mark in the huge Chinese market.”
Alasdair Allan MSP added: “The Chinese market represents a huge potential for Harris Tweed and it is great that the Carloway Mill is looking to develop in this area.
“I wish them every success and recognise the importance that they have economically for the islands.”
Angus Campbell, Western Isles Council leader and chairman of the Harris Tweed Industry Forum, said: “This is a very significant day for the Harris Tweed Industry and the Outer Hebrides.
“The establishment of a joint venture between the Carloway Mill and Shandong Ruyi opens up huge market potential and we will actively work with the company to support its future expansion.”