Fashion fans itching for Harris Tweed style

The Harris Tweed brand has enjoyed one of its best years for two decades, with orders up by 25 per cent in 2013 on the previous 12 months.

Picture: Robert Perry
Picture: Robert Perry

Harris Tweed Hebrides, which accounts for 90 per cent of the industry, said about 1.2 million metres of fabric was produced in 2013, up from 1 million in 2012.

The Shawbost-based company, named UK Textile Company of the Year in 2013 as well as Scotland’s Fashion Ambassador of the Year, said international sales accounted for the boom.

Chief executive Ian Angus MacKenzie said: “We saw a big surge in orders late in the year which means that we now have a very strong platform for 2014.

“We start from a better position than last year, which was itself pretty good.

“In the past, the ordering season did not really begin until into the new year but we have managed to get the message across that ordering early is the best way of ensuring that demand can be met. It is good news for the weavers as we are now able to provide them with year-round work. You never know what lies ahead, of course, but the current order book means that the early months of 2014 are going to be extremely busy.”

Meanwhile the firm will continue its international marketing campaign at two major events this month. Chairman Brian Wilson and creative director Mark Hogarth are attending Pitti Uomo, the world’s biggest menswear show, in Florence this week. And marketing director Margaret MacLeod is heading for Paris later in the month for Maison et Objet, the leading interiors and accessories show.

Mr Wilson, a former UK trade minister, said: “It is essential to keep opening up new markets and to work with existing clients, many of whom attend Pitti Uomo from all over the world.

“It is the first indicator of how they plan to use Harris Tweed in the year ahead, and an opportunity to discuss how we might work with them.”

He said interiors had been “a major growth area last year” and there were strong indications this would continue into 2014.

Harris Tweed Hebrides recently announced a £1m investment programme, including the acquisition of ten double-width looms which are being leased to weavers in order to bring new recruits into the industry.

The firm is building on the recent success of the industry, which is enjoying its biggest boom for more than 15 years.

Harris Tweed Hebrides employs 75-80 people and provides work for 140 home weavers on Lewis and Harris. The most recent figures have still to be finalised, but the Harris Tweed Industry Forum said last year 2012 had been its best year for production of the cloth in nearly 15 years and 2013 looks set to better that result.

Matt Smith’s Doctor Who character is not the only high-profile wearer of the cloth, with fellow stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna also fans.

Harris Tweed upholstery features heavily in the interiors of the five-star Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow, which opened last year.

Decline in yen value could hit biggest market for Scots cloth

While Harris Tweed is enjoying a surge in sales, there are fears about its major export market, Japan.

The recent sharp decline in the value of the yen could challenge sales of the fabric in Japan, currently the largest international importer of the cloth.

Harris Tweed Hebrides has admitted the exchange rate had “moved against” it.

Chairman Brian Wilson, a former UK trade minister, said the situation was a reminder of the need for the industry to always diversify.

For more than 50 years North America was the biggest export market for Harris Tweed.

Germany later overtook that status before, in more recent times, Japan became the key importer of the fabric.

Last October, around 150 Japanese enthusiasts took part in a mass cycle ride wearing their favourite material for the Tweed Run Tokyo.

While some of the race’s participants were decked out in full deerstalker mode, others donned slightly trendier tweed blousons and sneakers for the event.

The event was held as part of Japanese Fashion Week.

Mr Wilson said it was essential that Harris Tweed Hebrides sought to open up new markets while working with existing clients,

He added: “Japan is still our major market but the exchange rate has moved against us there.

“It does not seem to be having much impact at present but it is a reminder of why we always need to seek diversification of both markets and sectors for our product.”