Harris Tweed orders are on the upward trend

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Harris Tweed Hebrides are predicting “another growth year” for the industry and have kicked off 2012 by naming South Korea as a new target market.

The Shawbost-based company, which accounts for over 80 per cent of Harris Tweed production and was named Scotland’s Textile Brand of the Year in 2011, says that orders are already running 25 per cent ahead of the same stage last year when they ended up turning away work due to weaver capacity constraints.

Chairman Brian Wilson said this week: “It is important to get the message out to the weavers and their families as well as our own workforce that everything is looking very positive for Harris Tweed and that we are anticipating another growth year.

“Many of our customers have realised that it is now advisable to order earlier than they were used to doing in the past. There was no quiet period or mill lay-offs and we went straight from completing last season’s orders into building stock for the next cycle.”

Japan was the company’s biggest market last year, overtaking Germany for the first time. Mr Wilson said: “We had doubts about whether demand from Japan would hold up because of economic conditions there, but no orders were cancelled and we have the benefit of an excellent agent.

“Our chief executive, Ian Angus MacKenzie,made an important visit in November to spread the ‘order early’ message and that is exactly what they are doing.”

He added that South Korea was also beginning to feature as a major market and that the company will be making a big push there this year.

“We have a very active agent and there is a tendency for South Korean fashion to follow the lead from Japan, so we are already seeing steady growth.”

Harris Tweed Hebrides have accepted an invitation from United Kingdom Trade International to take part in a high-profile promotion of luxury goods to be held at the British Embassy in Seoul in March. Mr Wilson said that this would give them an excellent platform for a further advance into the Korean market.

He said: “Last year, we concentrated our promotional efforts on the United States, which is coming back nicely, and the BRIC countries of high economic growth - Brazil, Russia, India and China. We will continue to build on the foundations that were established in these potentially huge markets.”

Mr MacKenzie said that the move towards early ordering had taken seasonality out of the Harris Tweed industry for the first time in many years.

“I came back after the Christmas break to good orders from Germany, Japan, and Korea. It has been a very encouraging start to the year and we are confident it will continue.”

He paid tribute to the efforts made by the weavers throughout last year to keep up with demand and welcomed the arrival of “reinforcements” from the recent training courses in Lewis and Harris.

From the start of the year, Harris Tweed Hebrides has changed its status from Limited Liability Partnership to Limited Company but Mr Wilson said that this would not affect the workforce, weavers or anyone other than investors.

“We have become a healthily profitable company but every penny of profit has been re-invested,” he explained.

“As an LLP, profits are taxed irrespective of whether they are distributed but with a Limited Company, they will only be taxed on investors if and when distributed, thus retaining more money to further develop the business.”