Harris Tweed is Back. Scotweb Helps Foil the Great Yarn Robbery!

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An English businessman's audacious attempt to monopolise the world market in Harris Tweed has been outwitted by the islanders' determination to save their historic craft - with the support of Scotweb, Scotland's leading heritage retailer. After years of crisis during which the islands' weaving industry collapsed and the rich tradition of thousands of Harris Tweed patterns seemed certain to be lost forever amid a brutal reorganisation of this unique craft industry, Scotweb can at last relaunch its exclusive Harris Tweed Originals. Lovers of this most evocative fibre can again order dozens of truly unique products in authentic Harris Tweed patterns, where every sale helps keep alive the economy, traditions, and spirit of this far flung community.

hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, ..... and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides

When Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggas bought control of Harris Tweed in 2006, he "rationalised" a unique heritage of around 8000 traditional patterns down to just four 'commercial' colours. Then he cut off supplies to independent weavers, designers, and retailers, intending that Harris Tweed would in future be available only in one style of jacket at artificially inflated prices, sold by his family company.

Rather than see their traditions die, a group of islanders decided to go it alone. With the support of American Scots led by Alan Bain, a leading New Yorker expatriate, production was restarted using secondhand equipment at a semi-derelict mill, employing redundant weavers from the takeover. Driven by an appreciation of the multitude of nature-inspired patterns that Harris Tweed buyers cherish, this new mill produces authentic artisan Harris Tweed patterns with a full array of interacting shades of hills, rocks, water, land, sky, and shore.

This new production is now on stream and thriving, enabling Scotweb to relaunch and even expand its hugely popular Harris Tweed range under the new Harris Tweed Originals label. Managing Director Dr Nick Fiddes says "We're obviously known for having the world's largest range of tartans and kilts. But tweed has always been key to us. It's the closest thing Britain has to national dress. And Harris Tweed is absolutely the best of the best. It's not just a cloth. People are buying a little piece of a simpler way of life. We're just delighted to be able to bring it back, with a better than ever range of fabulous Harris Tweed products for both men and women."

"Like everyone else, we were outraged that one man could cut off our supplies in an attempt to corner this market for himself. It was as if a hotel chain had bought the entire Scotch whisky industry and decreed that from now on you could only drink malts in their bars. We were deluged by disappointed customers desperate to find garments we could no longer supply. And that will have been true of hundreds of other producers, from tiny cottage industries to top designers like Ralph Lauren. None of us were allowed to buy the fabrics our customers were crying out for."

"Overnight he was destroying one of the most beautiful parts of our heritage, killing off the richness and diversity that lovers of Harris Tweed sought out, in favour of a few plain fabrics that met his commercial demands. And what's more, by only selling the fabric as men's jackets, he denied women the world over the right to wear this fabulous fibre at all, let alone in the stunning shades they adored. On so many counts it was just plain wrong. So we can't describe how pleased we are to see Harris Tweed back on sale in the interesting colours that everyone loves."

Scotweb's new Harris Tweed Originals range is available both as made-to-order and off-the-shelf products, including ladies' skirts in several styles, hats, ties, furnishings, handbags, and of course men's jackets. Further lines including outdoor wear and new styles will be added shortly, just as soon as Scotweb can get samples made up and modeled, sustaining the company's mission of producing practically any product in any Scottish fabric.

Harris Tweed is governed by a special Act of Parliament in 1993, which dictates that to carry the name Harris Tweed it must only ever be "hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, ..... and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides". Each piece of woven cloth in inspected by the Harris Tweed Authority before it can carry the distinctive orb label that appears on every piece. Ironically, it is this protection that gave Brian Haggas the apparent opportunity to corner this market for himself, when he bought the mill that produced around 95% of the surviving capacity. In the 1960s the islands were producing around 7m yards of cloth per year, but recently this had fallen to about a tenth of that due to global competition and throwaway fashion. Only about 120 weavers now continue the tradition.

Scotweb was founded in 1995, as Scotland's original secure ecommerce site. The first company in the world to market kilts, bagpipes, and other specialist Scottish products on the web, Scotweb remains the only place in the world where customers can find every tartan ever recorded, and then buy fabrics and products in those rare tartans. This is thanks to Scotweb's unrivaled ability to weave specialist tartans to order in short lengths, in a wide choice of materials, and to custom tailor individual garments or other products to order.


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