THE success story of Harris Tweed in recent years has seen a major industry player announce £1million investment plans.
Harris Tweed Hebrides is to further expand its Shawbost mill on the Isle of Lewis and install new machinery as part of its investment programme to “consolidate the advances of the past five years” by the firm.
They also plan an international marketing campaign and provide new looms for lease to weavers, as well as invest further in information technology.
The company – just named Scotland’s top fashion ambassador – hopes to build on the recent success of the industry, which is enjoying its biggest boon for nearly a decade and a half.
Company chairman Brian Wilson said: “On the basis of existing orders, we have told both mill-workers and weavers that full-scale production will continue throughout the winter months.
“One of our greatest successes to date has been to take seasonality of employment out of the production cycle.
“We are confident that the time is right for a further investment programme to consolidate the advances of the past five years”.
He added: “The autumn and winter collections of many leading designers and retailers, now becoming available, include stunning examples of how Harris Tweed can be used which can only reinforce the fabric’s standing. We are also seeing strong growth in the interiors sector”.
The investment announcement coincided with Harris Tweed Hebrides being named as Scotland’s Fashion Ambassador of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards held in London this week.
Earlier this year, Harris Tweed Hebrides – which produced its first tweed in 2008 and now accounts for around 90 per cent of Orb-stamped production – was named Textile Business of the Year at the UK Fashion and Textile Awards in London.
Chief Executive, Ian Angus MacKenzie, said that the recent Premiere Vision show in Paris – the long-established shop-window for the global textiles industry – had been “excellent” for the company with high levels of interest from old and new clients.
He added: “The level of sampling along with some substantial early orders have given us confidence that the market is holding up well and demand will remain strong.
“In the interests both of our own company and the wider community, we believe this is the right time for further investment in the future of the industry.”
He said that Harris Tweed Hebrides would continue to support the working-group which is examining ways to develop the current double-width loom, drawing on the experience gained over the past two decades since double-width looms were introduced.
He added: “However, as a short-term measure, we feel it is urgent to create opportunities for more weavers to enter the industry and we have ordered a small number of looms from the original supplier for lease to weavers under the normal conditions of the industry.”
At the Scottish Fashion Awards ceremony, held for the first time in London, Harris Tweed Hebrides was named as Scotland’s Fashion Ambassador of the Year for “their outstanding contribution to fashion” as well as having “ensured a new generation of skilled labour and guaranteed the future of the industry”
The award was presented by Hilary Alexander, the doyenne of UK fashion writers and longstanding supporter of Harris Tweed, and accepted by Mr Wilson and creative director Mark Hogarth who has developed collaborations with leading fashion clients.
Mr Wilson told the audience: “We are the guys who come to London to pick up the awards but we are really here on behalf of the weavers, the millworkers and the whole team at Shawbost who have created this success story”.
Harris Tweed Hebrides currently employ around 80 people and provide work for 140 home weavers in Lewis and Harris.
Last December, the Harris Tweed Industry Forum revealed 2012 had been its best year for production of the cloth in nearly 15 years.
The forum, set up to support the industry, consists of representatives from the Harris Tweed Authority, the Weavers Association, the Harris Tweed Mills, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.