Relief for weavers as Harris Tweed mill to reopen with £1m investment

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ONE of Europe's leading oil businessmen has invested about £1 million to reopen the Harris Tweed mill at Shawbost on Lewis.

Ian Taylor, president and chief executive of Vitol, is the main shareholder in the new Scottish-based company, Harris Tweed Hebrides, or Cl Mr Innse Gall, which has taken over the mill closed by the KM Group in June 2006.

Most of the 30 staff were redeployed to KM's Stornoway mill, which was then sold to the controversial Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggas.

Industry expert Ian Angus MacKenzie is the new chief executive of Harris Tweed Hebrides - for the past 14 years he has been chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, the industry regulator which protects the Orb trademark and guarantees the authenticity of the cloth.

Former energy minister Brian Wilson, the new chairman of Cl Mr, said: "Everyone involved in the day-to-day operation of the company is steeped in the industry. We have a superb local team and there is huge enthusiasm for what Harris Tweed Hebrides can achieve for the industry and for the Western Isles economy."

Mr Wilson said Harris Tweed Hebrides would supply customers at the top end of the fashion market who might otherwise have been lost to the industry. Last year Mr Haggas announced plans to restrict the availability, patterns and colours of Harris Tweed and to focus on the manufacture of traditional gentlemen's jackets in his own factory.

Rae Mackenzie, sales director at Harris Tweed Hebrides, said customers around the world had responded with "enormous relief and enthusiasm" to news that supplies of Harris Tweed would once again be freely available from the Shawbost mill.

He said that while the acquisition and initial capital of the company had been fully funded by Mr Taylor, local people would be given profit-sharing and investment opportunities.

Mr Wilson said: "These two features will help to strengthen the company's roots in the community. We believe the potential of the reinvigorated Harris Tweed industry is enormous."

News of the reopening of Shawbost has been welcomed by the 30 small businesses on Lewis and Harris that depend on supplies of Harris Tweed for the production of items such as handbags, waistcoats and women's clothing.

Many of these producers will be meeting Cl Mr managers next week to discuss arrangements for future supplies.

Donald John and Maureen MacKay of the Luskentyre Harris Tweed Company, whose customers include the sportswear firm Nike, said: "We are delighted with this news and inspired by the competence and commitment of those experienced people now running the Shawbost mill."

Callum MacLean, from Ness in Lewis, a weaver for 30 years, said: "This is great news for weavers. We should now have a prosperous and sustainable future."