Harris Tweed® is arguably one of fashion's most iconic fabrics and it's made right here in Scotland. Recognisable thanks to its distinctive Orb stamp, Harris Tweed has been used by some of the world's renowned couture houses and fashion designers.
We spoke with Margaret A Macleod, Sales Director at Harris Tweed Hebrides, to find out more about the process of making the fabric and how the business is uniquely linked to the local communities across the island of Lewis & Harris.
Margaret A Macleod, Sales Director at Harris Tweed
Tell us about Harris Tweed Hebrides and its sustainable aspects
Harris Tweed Hebrides has been manufacturing iconic Harris Tweed for more than 15 years and sustainability is at the heart of the business.
We have developed a sustainable rural employment model, which has been in place for more than 110 years in its current form. This is made up of three independent elements - the private mill, independent home weavers (who are self-employed and work in their croft homes) and the Harris Tweed Authority, which is a statutory body. The three channels work interdependently and rely on each other for the on-going success of the industry.
Our fabric is always made of 100% pure new wool and the artisanal manufacturing process is kept within the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Each individual wool fibre is dyed and spun in our Shawbost Mill and every metre is handwoven on treadle looms in the croft homes of the Harris Tweed weavers. The mill and weaving skills in our industry have been passed down through generations. We work alongside over 120 self-employed handweavers, each one a true artisan and registered with the Harris Tweed Authority.
Can you tell us how you maintain the cultural legacy of the brand whilst remaining sustainable?
The Harris Tweed industry is governed by the 1993 Harris Tweed Act of Parliament, which safeguards our fabric and provides the authentication which is instantly recognised by the Harris Tweed Orb stamp. Our small-batch woollen manufacturing process is also protected and cannot be undertaken anywhere beyond the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
We are proud to preserve the cultural legacy and integrity of our high-quality product whilst keeping our industry vibrant and supporting the local weaving community.
Since around the 1940s, when mill production was first introduced to the industry, our manufacturing processes have largely stayed the same, techniques and skills which have been passed through island generations and are hugely valued within our business.
You play a key role in the community supplying weaving projects to skilled home weavers across the island of Lewis & Harris and providing all-year employment. How important is supporting the local community to your business and why?
Community is at the heart and soul of the work of Harris Tweed Hebrides and sustainability has always been part of island life in the Outer Hebrides.
Living on the remote island of Lewis and Harris we are a resourceful and interconnected island community; crofting is an important element of our culture and day to day life. Harris Tweed Hebrides provides steady employment within the local community which facilitates a lifestyle where crofting can be combined with home-weaving or with working life in the mill.
The Scottish and Outer Hebrides landscape is breath-taking, how do the surroundings inspire your fabric?
We are so fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful landscapes and seascapes. The Hebrides are absolutely breath-taking, and the island colours provide inspiration, from the moorland to the Atlantic Ocean and our beautiful beaches. Colour is so important, and the brand is hugely respected and recognised for its depth of colour and high-quality pattern definition.
The Harris Tweed Hebrides colour palette has more than 180 unique yarns, so we're always looking for new inspiration. We dye wool at the fibre stage of production to give the best colour clarity, with the next stages of production used to create unique yarn blends ahead of the handweaving process.
Harris Tweed fabric is used by designers, how important is it to ensure that such a globally recognised brand keeps to its local values?
Keeping our local values is extremely important for us. It makes up a huge part of our brand identity at Harris Tweed Hebrides. We are competing against beautiful fabrics throughout the global marketplace, yet our fabric collection has a unique presence and tells a story about our island and our textile heritage.
We ship our fabric to every single corner of the world and have some fantastic partners in Europe, America and Japan. The success of working within these markets is their appreciation and understanding of our processes and what is unique about Harris Tweed fabric.
Your brand has a global reach, what are your key markets and new markets you're exploring?
The UK is our biggest market closely followed by France, Germany, and Italy. We also have a strong presence in America and Japan.
Over the last 20 years, we've had the opportunity to work with some high profile brands from South Korea and more recently China. Whilst our presence is still relatively new in China, we have been delighted in the response to our brand and of course, our fabric collection. Since entering the market in 2017, Harris Tweed Hebrides have opened an office in Shanghai and have seen some significant growth within the country.
What is next for Harris Tweed Hebrides?
We're very much looking forward to meeting our customers face-to-face once again. I am particularly excited to promote our brand and products at industry tradeshows, including Paris, Milan, London, and Shanghai.
We are also looking at how we can strengthen our own sustainability credentials. Over the past 3 years, Harris Tweed Hebrides has been working with British Wool on an exciting traceability project, which explores the journey of wool fibre from small-scale Scottish crofts and farms to the finished authenticated Harris Tweed fabric at the Shawbost Mill. It is still in its initial stages, we are all passionate about this project to further support Scottish sheep farmers and crofters..
To find out more about Harris Tweed Hebrides visit - www.harristweedhebrides.com