As I’m sure many of you will be aware, today is a very important day: National Tweed Day. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why they chose the first day of Aintree rather than some time during Cheltenham, but hey ho. The 3rd April it is.
Tweed might be seen as a bit of a fuddy-duddy fabric, more suited to young fogeys and Cirencester types than the catwalk. But in recent years it has seen something of a renaissance, and the tweed industry – particularly Harris tweed – can be seen as something of a British success story.
In the 2000s, Harris tweed was struggling. In 2009, one mill on Stornaway was forced to close due to falling sales; in 2008 just 500,000 metres of the cloth were produced. But since then tweed has firmly put itself back on the map, with brands from Nike to Chanel using it in their designs. In 2012, over a million metres of Harris tweed were produced; the highest output in over 15 years. They still have some way to go (in the ‘60s, about seven million metres were produced a year), but things are certainly on the up. Strict guidelines also ensure that it’s not turned into a mass-produced item, as they insist that the tweed is hand woven in islanders’ homes, rather than in factories.
Politics has certainly played its part. Since 1909, the Harris Tweed Association has protected the use of the name ‘Harris Tweed’ from imitations. In 1993 the fabric was granted its own Act of Parliament, the Harris Tweed Act 1993, which granted the tweed its own legal definition:
‘Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.’
These days, the Harris Tweed Authority stamps and inspects every 50 metres of Harris tweed, meaning that no imposters can creep through the cracks. That doesn’t stop people from trying though. Even the BBC has tried to bring in some phonies; in 2011 they came under attack when it was found that the production of Matt Smith’s new Dr Who jacket had been outsourced to China.
So there you go; I hope you’re all wearing your tweed with pride today. And if anyone is off to the Outer Hebrides anytime soon, I’d recommend you pay a visit to Donald John MacKay (MBE, no less!) in what he describes as ‘just a shed behind a house, on a road by the sea’. I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed by either the islands or their tweeds.
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