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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Shoemaker Nike's fling with Harris Tweed
By Claire Bothwell
BBC Money Programme

Nike tweed shoe
Princely fashion or peasant shoe?
Harris Tweed was once seen as the favoured attire of the upper classes, country sports enthusiasts and even, on occasions, the Royal Family.

But with the advent of softer fabrics and the dreaded shell suit, fashions changed and the tweed producers fell on hard times.

Jobs were lost and the entire economic future of the islands that depend on Harris Tweed was cast into doubt.

But now the tweed producers have been thrown a lifeline by the giant American sportswear manufacturer Nike.

Enormous

Nike have come up with a new training shoe design which features Harris Tweed extensively.

Harris Tweed pattern
Weavers throughout the Outer Hebrides were called into action to meet the demand.

It all began with a phone call from a Nike designer to weaver Donald John Mackay and his wife Maureen, who live and work in Luskentyre in the Outer Hebrides.

Nike were looking for a way to update a trainer called The Terminator, a basketball shoe from the 1980s, and wanted to use Harris Tweed as a key part of the design.

Mr Mackay admits that he had heard the name Nike but that was about as far as it went.

"I knew that they were into sportswear of some sort but we didn't grasp the enormity of the thing or what it could become," he says.

Revival

Mr Mackay was soon to find out, as within a matter of weeks Nike had ordered nearly 10,000 metres of cloth.

Weavers throughout the Outer Hebrides were called into action to meet the demand.

Derick Murray, the owner of the two key mills which produce most of the tweed exported from the Outer Hebrides, is excited by the possibilities.

"I'm more confident than I was for a long time and I'm sure this will be a great success [that] could bring the industry back," he says.

Peasant shoes

But that all depends on how customers respond.

Nike tweed shoe
Will customers like the shoes?

This week the Nike trainer in Harris Tweed finally hits the high street.

Feelings in the fashion community are mixed.

Liz Walker, Marie Claire's fashion editor, is scathing:

"To be honest with you, I think it's monstrous," she says.

"Fine on the sports field. Walking along Bond Street - no."

But Harriet Quick of the fashion bible Vogue is less critical.

"You associate Nike with very hi-tech trainers, and so to have this sort of almost peasanty looking kind of shoe, I think is really interesting," she says.

More deals

So can Nike's Highland fling save Harris Tweed?

Mr Murray says the early signs are good.

"We've already been getting inquiries from people in the trade who haven't bought Harris Tweed for years," he says.

And Mr Mackay has another potentially exciting inquiry to deal with, although for the moment he is being slightly coy about giving away too much.

"It's another leading brand name, again to do with shoes, but that is all I will reveal at this stage," he says.

The Money Programme Nike's Highland Fling was broadcast on BBC 2 on Wednesday 20 October at 1930.


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