Brian Wilson: How protectionism helped save Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed is the only cloth in the world protected by its own act of parliament (Picture: Robert Perry)
Harris Tweed is the only cloth in the world protected by its own act of parliament (Picture: Robert Perry)
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Twenty-five years ago this week, in the tidy-up before the summer recess, Westminister gave its final approval to the Harris Tweed Act and if anyone needs proof of why protectionism can be a good thing, then surely this is it!

Harris Tweed was at a low ebb. The North American market on which it depended for decades collapsed in the mid-1980s. A new loom was developed to produce double-width Tweed which the textiles world was demanding. But another threat was emerging.

Since the early 20th century, the industry depended on the coveted Orb trade mark which occasionally had to be defended through costly legal action.

In the late 1980s, a leading fashion house which used Harris Tweed adopted a trade mark which was remarkably similar to the Orb.

READ MORE: Brian Wilson: In war of wool vs synthetic, Harris Tweed is a winner

This alerted the industry to the need for stronger brand protection. An industry body called the Harris Tweed Association took the momentous decision to promote private legislation that would create a statutory authority to protect the trade mark, the definition of which would be enshrined in law.

Remarkably, this legislation found its way through its Westminster stages without being blocked by other interests.

Harris Tweed became the only fabric in the world protected by its own Act of Parliament, so that it can only be made from pure virgin wool, handwoven at the home of the weaver, produced and finished in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

I have the privilege of being involved in this wonderful industry today, as chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides.

And I have no doubt that hundreds of Hebridean livelihoods depend on a noble piece of protectionism in a good cause – the Harris Tweed Act of 1993.

READ MORE: Paul Walker: Designing 21st century Tweed