Push for Harris Tweed in US and Canada

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Harris Tweed Hebrides, the Shawbost-based company which accounts for 90 per cent of Harris Tweed production, has teamed up with one of the world’s leading advertising agencies to promote the fabric in the US and Canada.

The company’s chairman, former UK Trade Minister, Brian Wilson, and creative director Mark Hogarth are hosting a series of events this week to encourage the revival of Harris Tweed in North America – historically by far the biggest export market.

A specially-created social media site will highlight both the American heritage of Harris Tweed and its current use by cutting-edge designers.

The new campaign will be launched over the coming week at events in Toronto and New York.

It is a joint venture between the Leo Burnett advertising agency which has over 100 offices world-wide and Harris Tweed Hebrides, founded in 2007 when the industry was in crisis and since twice named Scotland’s Textile Brand of the Year.

Brian Wilson, said: “The idea actually came from the Leo Burnett end. They have a history of sponsoring projects which identify trends in society and bring together people with a shared community of interest through social media.

“They had linked the current fashion trend towards Harris Tweed with the huge heritage the fabric possesses in North America. There are vast numbers of people out there who have a great affinity with Harris Tweed and stories to tell about what it means to them.”

The new site will invite them to contribute recollections and observations – not by tweeting but by “Tweeding”. Photographs and documents which illustrate the history of Harris Tweed in North America will feature on the site along with the latest fashion uses.

Mark Hogarth said: “Harris Tweed has featured on film and fashion shoots of each decade in the past century. Bringing all of this together on the one site, and inviting the world to join in, is a really exciting prospect.

“Having the global reach of the Leo Burnett agency behind this concept opens up great possibilities.”

The Harris Tweed Hebrides client list already includes top US names like JCrew, Ralph Lauren, rag&bone and Brooks Brothers as well as Canada Goose and Maison Simons in Canada. Chief executive Ian Angus MacKenzie said: “We have just had our biggest single order from the US since we started, so things are definitely moving in the right direction.

“However, it is still a long way from the glory days which lasted more than 50 years and only really ended in the 1980s when the mills got involved in price cutting and other short-term measures. Canada itself used to be a huge market and the potential is still there.

“The more people are reminded of the heritage, style and quality of Harris Tweed the better, so we think this new initiative can be a really useful tool. Our order book at present is very healthy but we can never rest on our laurels”.

Pictured is Suzy Parker wearing Harris Tweed.