Harris Tweed makers settle dispute with TK Maxx over alleged trademark infringement

Retailer TK Maxx has settled dispute over alleged trademark infringement of Harris Tweed
Retailer TK Maxx has settled dispute over alleged trademark infringement of Harris Tweed
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The owners of the Harris Tweed brand have won a settlement with top retail firm TK Maxx in a trademark row over alleged unauthorised use of the iconic cloth.

• Retailer TK Maxx agrees to pay out “five-figure sum” to settle dispute involving use of trademarked Harris Tweed

• Harris Tweed protected by eponymous 1993 Act

The high street chain, which boasts big labels at small prices, has paid what is understood to be a “five-figure sum” in damages for using the famous tweed on two styles of jacket.

The Harris Tweed Authority, the statutory body tasked with safeguarding the long term integrity of the name, tonight confirmed it had settled a dispute with TK Maxx.

HTA identified in November that the retail company had available for sale two styles of jacket in several colour ways – such jackets containing some Harris Tweed on each garment – the labelling and promotion of which the authority believed breached the Harris Tweed Act 1993, and other rights held by them on behalf of the industry.

A spokeswoman for the authority said it considered such conduct with the utmost seriousness.

She added that such alleged unauthorised use of the Harris Tweed name risks dilution of it and undermined the integrity of an iconic Scottish brand.

Court proceedings were raised to protect the Harris Tweed brand but, following negotiations, HTA secured an appropriate confidential settlement from TK Maxx.

HTA chief executive Lorna Macaulay said: “Here in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland we are a long way away from the commercial markets in which Harris Tweed is sold.

“We do not however let that hinder our efforts to protect our various marks registered throughout the world.

“We use the best legal advisers in the country and will pursue any individual or business who attempt to undermine what is so important and valued both by the people of the Outer Hebrides, and our customers.”

Harris Tweed is cloth that has been hand woven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their own homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.

This is the definition of the cloth contained in the Harris Tweed Act of 1993 and it ensures that all products certified with the Harris Tweed Orb symbol complies with this definition and is genuine Harris Tweed, the world’s only commercially produced hand woven tweed.

She said sales of the cloth had never been so buoyant and in 2012, for the first time since 1993, production output has exceeded the million metre mark.

She added: “This ancient industry which dates back centuries is vital to the modern economic, cultural and social fabric of the Outer Hebrides, employing some 250 craftsmen and women.

“The Harris Tweed Authority, on behalf of the islanders protect the Harris Tweed brand for the good of generations to follow.”

HTA was created by the 1993 Act to be custodians of the Harris Tweed industry and the cloth’s famous Orb trademark.

The fundamental role of the authority is to undertake responsibility for promoting and maintain the authenticity, standard and reputation of the world famous cloth.

TK Maxx has yet to comment.

But on its website TK Maxx says its concept is “simple”, adding: “TK Maxx buyers shop the world all year round working direct with designers to negotiate great deals bringing customers designer and famous brands at a fraction of normal retail prices.”

Last year the Harris Tweed Authority won another case, this time against ITX Fashion Limited, the internet trading arm of fashion retailer Zara.

They were selling a product on its website described, but not actually labelled, as “Harris Tweed Blazer”.

The product was not made from Harris Tweed and therefore ITX had acted contrary to the 1993 Act.

Legal proceedings with ITX were concluded “amicably,” with the authority having secured assurances from the company that there will be no repetition.

Harris Tweed has many famous followers including pop star Madonna, rapper Tinie Tempah, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr Who Mark Smith.

It has been used to make handbags, hats, dog collars and even Nike trainers in recent years.

Now it is entering youth and sub culture fashion markets - typified by a new Dr Martens tweed boot.

The tweed is now enjoying boom times doubling production in just three years. Russia is currently being targeted as a major market for the fabric.

At the moment more than 40 per cent of all Harris Tweed exports goes to Japan, overtaking sales to Germany.

Demand from that Far East market helped push this 2012’s total production to more than a million metres of cloth. In 2009, production ran to just 500,000 metres.

In its heyday in the 1960s, Harris Tweed production ran to about seven million metres of cloth.

A joint approach to skills and training has also paid dividends. Nearly 40 new Harris Tweed weavers have entered the workforce in the past four years.The industry was born in 1846, when Lady Dunmore, widow of the late Earl of Dunmore, had the Murray tartan copied by Harris weavers in tweed. She then devoted much of her time to marketing the tweed to her friends, who included Queen Victoria.

Today, the tweed industry - weaving, finishing and design - is now the Western Isles’ largest private sector employer, generating about £10m a year for the local economy.