Page last updated at 00:24 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

USA 'an enigma' says Harris Tweed company chairman

Dress designed by Judy R Clark
The firm plans collaborations with designers such as Judy R Clark

A boss at Harris Tweed Hebrides has described the US market as "puzzling" after selling little fabric to what should be its biggest importer.

Chairman Brian Wilson said tweed had a good reputation in America and hoped its profile could be raised further.

In September, the firm denied "de-Scottishifying" amid fears of a backlash over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

The company produced 90% of last year's total production of Harris Tweed.

It has set targets of expanding sales in the US, Russia and India during 2010.

Award-winning Harris Tweed Hebrides will showcase its product at trade events in each of the three countries, starting in New York next week.

Mr Wilson said the company's first full year of production had been a "fantastic" success.

He said: "We have a profitable business, producing top quality Harris Tweed all year round without the seasonal lay-offs long associated with the industry.

We must always look for new challenges
Brian Wilson
Harris Tweed Hebrides chairman

"We are exporting to over 50 countries and the prospects for 2010 are very encouraging. However, we must always look for new challenges and it is clear to us that these three markets offer priority opportunities for expansion."

Mr Wilson added: "The USA is an enigma. Historically, it was by far the biggest market for Harris Tweed but we are selling relatively little there."

The former Labour government minister said the company would try to understand the American market better in 2010 and aim to raise awareness to it.

In September, chief executive Ian Mackenzie denied Harris Tweed Hebrides was "de-Scottishifying" amid fears of a negative reaction in the US over the Scottish government's decision to allow Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to return to Libya.

Al-Megrahi was convicted of carrying out the bombing of an American airliner in 1988, which killed 270 people.

Harris Tweed Hebrides' creative director Mark Hogarth was quoted in newspapers saying the company was no longer promoting itself as Scottish.

But Mr Mackenzie said Harris Tweed was a "Scottish icon" and dropping the word Scottish from use had never been up for consideration.

Brazilian designer

Harris Tweed Hebrides has said it plans during 2010 to expand on orders from Russia and India.

It also proposes to launch a website featuring collaborations with designers such as Graven Images, Deryck Walker and Judy R Clark.

A range of bags by Brazilian designer Juliana Lawson is already available online.

In 2009, the company secured a major order to provide fabric for a new five-star hotel in Glasgow.

It also won textile brand of the year at the Scottish Fashion Awards and outstanding contribution to style at the Scottish Style Awards.

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