INTEREST from France and Italy in high-end cloth from Harris Tweed Hebrides (HTH) has spiked “significantly” in recent weeks as the firm seeks to further strengthen and diversify its customer base.
Requests for samples have jumped following what has been described as the most successful outing yet for HTH at last month’s Premiere Vision in Paris – the world’s biggest trade show for fashion textiles. Buyers review these samples before deciding which fabrics to include in their next winter collection, with orders typically arriving in February and March.
Mark Hogarth, creative director at HTH, said sample orders from Premiere Vision are generally a fair guide to sales volumes in the following year. While core markets in Japan and the UK remain strong, there has been a surge in interest from France and Italy.
“Those are definitely our two fastest-growing markets,” said Hogarth, who was speaking last week at the Marketing Society’s Albion Dinner in Glasgow.
Harris Tweed has been riding a wave of popularity, with the industry producing about 1.1 million metres of cloth last year, up from lows of 400,000 metres just seven years earlier. HTH accounts for about three-quarters of this fabric, which by law must be made in the homes of islanders from Barra, Harris, Lewis and Uist.
Industry veterans say demand tends to run in cycles of roughly seven years, and though there are no signs its popularity is waning, Hogarth and fellow executives are aiming to cement Harris Tweed’s place in luxury retailing.
The company is looking for further tie-ups with fashion houses such as Chanel – its biggest customer last year – and is expanding into areas such as accessories and furniture. It also has an agreement to produce gear in association with the Ryder Cup.
Heavily dependent on the Japanese market as recently as three or four years ago, HTH has been diversifying its customer base. Japan now accounts for about 35 per cent of sales, with a further 35 per cent in the UK. The majority of the rest goes into Europe.