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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 07:02 GMT 08:02 UK
Concern over Harris Tweed changes
Kenneth Mackenzie mill. Picture by Norman Campbell
The tweed mill is now owned by Brian Haggas
New production plans for Harris Tweed have caused concern within the traditional cloth industry.

The bulk of the Harris Tweed trade is now controlled by Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggas.

He plans to use production almost exclusively to make upmarket men's jackets and cut the number of tweed patterns to only five.

Islanders have welcomed his investment but they are concerned about a scheme to restrict sales and patterns.

This is causing concern for weavers like Callum Maclean.

He said: "This is all new. It has not been tried before. In the past customers have ordered tweed and they have been given what they have asked for.

"To throw everything aside and say 'we are not going to make tweeds for any customers from now on, just tweeds being woven to make jackets with one company, with just five patterns', that is of great concern for us."

Permanent contracts

Harris Tweed is heavily regulated and can only win the name by being woven by hand in Lewis or Harris.

Ian Mackenzie, the chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, said there were potential dangers in denying clothing manufacturers the cloth.

He "welcomed Mr Haggas' ambitious plans" and his intention to make substantial investment in the future.

But added that international clients unable to access cloth might look elsewhere and that others might take up the slack.

Mr Haggas said trying to widen tweed's appeal had debased its coinage and there was a need to simplify the range.

Harris Tweed fact file
Model in Harris Tweed bikini. Picture courtesy of Norman Strachan
Lewis-born designer Sandra Murray's Harris Tweed bikini, above, was showcased at Cannes Film Festival
The mills provide wool to self-employed weavers in Harris and Lewis who produce the cloth on foot-driven looms in, or near, their homes
The woven cloth is then sent back to mills for finishing
At the moment, around 110 weavers use the modern double-width loom, with another 33 using the old-style single-width Hattersley loom

He argued change was needed in an industry which produces a seventh of the amount it did in the 1960s.

Mr Haggas said: "As we have somewhere around 8,000 patterns, we thought that was quite enough for people to choose from.

"The traditional thing has dragged the industry down. We are going to have a change."

Mr Haggas said that from 1 September, permanent contracts, rather than the traditional temporary ones, would be made available.

However, Mr Haggas warned that there may also be some redundancies.

Speaking after a meeting with staff at the mill in Stornoway, Mr Haggas said decisions about fabrics and garments would be announced at the end of December.

Mr Haggas made clear that a new suite of equipment would be installed this autumn at the premises on Stornoway's Sandwick Road.

These would include new facilities for winding, steaming the yarn, radio-frequency dyeing and finishing, as well as other parts of the process.

Streamlined prospects for Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed in Yorkshire hands
07 Dec 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Talks on Harris Tweed businesses
22 Nov 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Workers to take mill to tribunal
19 Oct 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Shawbost tweed mill to shut down
30 Jun 06 |  Highlands and Islands

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