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Thursday
Dec042008

Harris Tweed is back: a national scandal, now with a happy ending!

For anyone who has followed the outrageous story of one Englishman’s single-handed efforts in recent years to destroy one of the most cherished and beautiful parts of Scotland’s national heritage, namely Harris Tweed, purely for personal gain… read on. There’s great news!

Firstly, let’s briefly recap. Harris Tweed has a history quite unlike any other woven textile. So rare and unique is it, that the British Monarch has decreed, by special Act of Parliament, that to carry that name, Harris Tweed may only ever be handwoven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra, in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides, which lie many miles into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Scotland.

The exceptional character and beauty of Harris Tweed can be attributed to the fact that it is the world’s only fabric produced in commercial quantities by truly traditional methods. Hundreds of distinctive patterns have evolved over the centuries, each unique in appearance but unmistakable as Harris Tweed. Its characteristically coarse but subtle designs in complex natural shades have traditionally gone mostly into gentlemen’s jackets and ladies skirts. But latterly this fabric had been finding a new market in the high fashion world, the artisan crafts world, and even in such landmark products as the famous special edition Nike Harris Tweed training shoe - now a valued collector’s item.

So far so good. An exceptional product with an exceptional history and an even more exceptional future, one might presume.

But sadly, no. A few years ago, along came a Yorkshireman who owned, amongst other things, a large business selling jackets. He sold a lot of Harris Tweed jackets, and presumably didn’t like to do so in a competitive market where other people could also sell Harris Tweed jackets at a price that they considered fair. It seems he preferred the idea of being the only person in the world who could sell Harris Tweed jackets, which would mean he could put his prices up and make a lot more money. So he bought the entire industry.

Yes, that’s right. He took over the entire production of Harris Tweed. And overnight, he cut off supplies to almost everyone else who had been buying it. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he slashed the range of patterns produced to… four. At a stroke, centuries of tradition was wiped off the face of the earth.

To the many lovers of Harris Tweed, and of Scottish heritage, this came as nothing less than an outrage. It has been compared to the idea of one supermarket chain buying up every whisky distillery in Scotland, closing all but a handful regardless of the huge and much loved diversity of flavour that exists amongst the hundreds of rare malts, and selling these few only through their own checkouts. A scandal, indeed.

And there this wonderfully special chapter of Scottish history seemed to die.

But it didn’t. Fortunately, this much-reviled individual had not been able to buy the rights to Harris Tweed itself, but only to the existing output. And enough strength of spirit (and eye for their real long-term future) existed amongst some of the Islanders, that almost immediately moves began to be made to initiate new sources of independent weaving on the Islands.

Here at Scotweb we are proud to have played a small part in this vital process of restoring our ancient traditions. We had built up a substantial physical archive of rare Harris Tweed fabric samples, for the dozens of patterns that we had been marketing through our web site. We were delighted to be able to share these with the rebel weavers, to form the basis for their new recreated ranges.

It’s been a slow process. But we’re delighted to announce that we are at last, again, able to accept orders for authentic Harris Tweed products. Currently we are taking orders for Ladies Skirts in Harris Tweed, but soon we will also be able to offer fabrics, and many other items too. Delivery of fabric lengths and garments may initially be a little slower than before. Whilst our independent weavers rebuild their stocks of fabrics, each pattern ordered will have to be specially woven to order, with a portion going to the purchaser and another part going into stock for off-the-shelf dispatch.

So not only are we delighted to announce the return of Harris Tweed. But by ordering, you can feel good for playing your own small part in protecting and restoring Scottish heritage. So long live the Revolution! Long live the independent weavers. Long live Harris Tweed.

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Reader Comments (2)

Brian Haggas has to be one of the most arrogant fools this planet has ever produced. His sheer lack of compassion, education and imagination makes me wonder how his gene pool ever manged to crawl out of the water. He belongs in glass display case in some mueseum. His approach to this unique industry beggars belief.
Well done to all the people who oppose and are working against such a demonstrative person.
There is a saying in Lancashire about Yorkshire folk which I would not normally attribute to my fellow neighbours across the Pennines but in this case the cloth certainly fits. "Yorkshire born, Yorkshire bred, strong in arm but thick in Head."
September 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff
Ipresume then that since the American's were responsible for this horrible mess called the "GFC" the Australians should get 30% percent off, for being a great lap dog!

No pun intended...

Mac
January 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllan MacDougall

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