Doctor Who's latest yarn's a moneyspinner for Harris Tweed

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AS BEFITTING a timeless classic, The Doctor is a fan. So too is Madonna, Kate Moss, Ralph Lauren and Gok Wan.

• Matt Smith, the latest Doctor Who star, has begun a trend and boosted the industry by wearing a Harris Tweed jacket. Picture: PA

Now sales of Harris Tweed are soaring, after years where it has failed to shake off its staid image, thanks to its association with some of the most iconic figures of the age.

This year more than 630 metres of tweed have been sold, compared to 450 metres last year - up 30 per cent. Interest in the famous cloth is increasing with the help of the latest incarnation of Doctor Who's Time Lord, Matt Smith, who wears a Harris Tweed jacket.

The Scots-woven material has never been far from a crisis in recent years but, despite the recession, the island industry is forecasting a healthy future with output figures soaring.

Demand is growing in countries like Germany and Japan, where fashion designers are using the traditional cloth for new ranges and accessories, and a new generation of weavers is being trained in the ancient occupation.

Lorna Macaulay, chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority (HTA), said: "It's been a difficult market over last few years but its beginning to come through.

"There has been a significant increase this year. Our phones are red hot. We have three mills producing tweed, they are selling to overseas markets and they are going to all the right shows. It's very exciting, especially during the economic downturn.

"There is a renaissance in hand-made quality products and that is exactly the box Harris Tweed ticks. It tells us there is still a discerning customer out there who wants quality goods, hand-made in Scotland."

She said interest generated by a Harris Tweed-wearing Time Lord helps the industry: "It has helped raise the profile, especially among young people.But it's tenuous to say it has had a direct impact on meterage, that increase is more down to the mills getting their act together and getting out there marketing and selling a good product."

The industry has also branched out into accessories, making items such as soft furnishings, which has helped reach new audiences and keep weavers busy over the traditionally quiet periods.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: "It is wonderful to have news of a thriving industry in the current climate.

"Harris Tweed has long been recognised as a quality product and this has helped it buck the economic trends."

The upturn in fortunes is a success for the Harris Tweed Industry Forum, a partnership involving Western Isles Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the HTA, mills and Skills Development Scotland, which has worked to co-ordinate financial support and skills and training programmes.

Training packages for new and existing weavers have been complemented by a wide-ranging package of support in the mills, developing skills in production, management and design.

Three local trainees recently gained certification from the prestigious Textiles Centre of Excellence in Yorkshire, and other mill employees have had bespoke design and trend advice, crucial for developing products in global markets.

In addition, this year saw ten students complete a 12-week course providing them with a SVQ qualification in weaving, the first of its kind for the industry.

It was the first training course in more than a decade to give formal training to new weavers and ensure new entrants are trained to an appropriate standard. A new Standard-Grade style qualification also started at a school in Tarbert, Harris.

Ian Angus Mackenzie, MD of Harris Tweed Hebrides, said: "We are extremely busy into next year, so are confident about the future."

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