On a wet and windy late November morning of 2007,
Ian Angus Mackenzie unlocked the rusty doors of the
mothballed Shawbost Mill on the west side of Lewis. The
formation of Harris Tweed Hebrides was a hastily-
assembled response to an imminent crisis in the industry,
which threatened to remove Harris Tweed from world
markets. Mackenzie, who had spent his entire career in the
industry, could scarcely have dreamed at the time that his
beloved Harris Tweed would soon leap from its sick bed to
re-establish its place as one of the world's premier fabrics
in the form of Harris Tweed Hebrides.
Assisted by the insight of former UK Government Minister
Brian Wilson, the investment of Ian Taylor, a successful oil
trader with a passion for his native Scotland, and the
marketing skills of Mark Hogarth, Mackenzie was
determined that Harris Tweed Hebrides would be a brand
with an image that would appeal to more than just the older
generation it had become synonymous with.
From the land comes the cloth
Harris Tweed is no normal fabric. The Clo Mor (Gaelic for great cloth) is born of the land. The colours are inspired by the islands' flora and fauna; there is a near-mystical relationship between the cloth and the weavers adding their artisan skills. From wool toyarn to tweed, the complex process has a refined luxury as well as a great narrative but this 'story' needed to be told to new markets.
A ripping yarn
Orders came in from traditional customers at a steady rate but as 2008 drew to a close it was the phone calls from Parisian fashion houses that gave a hint that something big might just be happening. Chanel and Galliano made small orders but the impact was huge. Paris Match came to 'les Islands du Tweed' and über-cool Monocle magazine did a four-page spread on the "unique and ethical cloth" that is Harris Tweed.
Back in fashion
In 2009 Harris Tweed Hebrides was given a boost by being
named Best Textile Company at the prestigious Scottish
Fashion Awards. The average age of the 120 remaining
Harris Tweed weavers was 57; there was a great need
of aninjection of youth into the industry. This led to new
weaving courses being set up by the Harris Tweed
Authority. People appreciated the authenticity of the fabric
and the integrity of the finished products; no gimmicks,
just provenance and quality underpinned by the Orb trademark
which guaranteed the fabric as true Harris Tweed – made from
pure virgin wool, hand-woven at the home of the weaver
in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
With solid demand from Germany and Japan, the focus fell
on the domestic market. Topman was a game-changer,
helping transform the image of Harris Tweed and give it a
universal appeal. The hip 2010/11 collection was about
tight short fits with nice trims, and with waistcoats and
bow-ties just like those worn by Dr Who. At the same time
Paul Smith and Katherine Hooker were doing beautifully
clean-cut womens' hacking jackets which demonstrated
the feminine side of the fabric.
The last few years have been defined by high-end collaborations, with well-established brands creating stunning garments and accessories. Fashionable Canada Goose and Moncler down jackets and iconic Converse Chuck Taylor Basketball boots have all been made in vintage patterns of Harris Tweed. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel drew inspiration from the Highland adventures of Coco Chanel, with Harris Tweed jackets playing a starring role in Le Métier D'arts show.
And now Harris Tweed has come to John Lewis with a range of products including accessories,
and even a
Going mainstream, staying premium
can again be found on the High Street, but it still retains its first principles of craftsmanship and ethical production values.