Thursday, July 7

10engines over at details -harris tweed hebrides

My latest installment for Details is an interview w/ Mark Hogarth, the Creative Director of Harris Tweed Hebrides. Huge thanks to him for that. Go read the posted interview at Details then head back here for an expanded version and more.

I have no references to back this up but often thought of early tweed as almost camoflage, in the sense that those wools were sometimes dyed with lichen from the local area, so taking on the colors of the landscape... further reading. Thoughts?


“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, Scotland] and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.” -via The Harris Tweed Authority
Harris Tweed (or Clo Mhor in Gaelic meaning the big cloth) is the Champagne of tweeds, figuratively and in a legal-ese sense, in that the name can only be used for this specific product that meets the geographical standard as above.

Around 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production is from the mills and weavers of Harris Tweed Hebrides (HTH) in Shawbost (on the Isle of Lewis) who are steadily growing as their retail partners increase (e.g. remember Harris Tweed in Top Man last year? That was HTH tweed). HTH have created their own retail portal with clothing and home furnishings, and the Japanese obsession with detail and heritage has not hurt either... Mark Hogarth, the Creative Director of Harris Tweed Hebrides took time out last month from a) watching the Old Firm match and b) his hectic travel schedule, to enlighten me on the state of the industry, as below.

Mark Hogarth, 2009 image by StyleScanner

James: What makes HTH succeed?
Mark: We have made a determined effort to close the physical and emotional distance between the mill and the markets. We have been pro-active in both seeking out new markets and re-invigorating traditional ones. We are determined to make Harris Tweed a style staple and not a fashion fad and stay true to our core values of producing a unique hand-woven product. At the moment demand is out-stripping supply and that is how we would like to continue.

What got you into the industry?
I'm a politics graduate who used to be a professional model. Co-incidentally I met Brian Wilson [Chairman of HTH] when I was doing a government sponsored Harris Tweed show for Vivienne Westwood. Working for Brian at Westminster introduced me to the potential of Harris Tweed. I learned a lot more about the fashion industry when I lived in Japan and became very interested in their vision and ideas on style and fashion. Their obsessions with details and heritage intrigued me and I always felt that this would catch on globally and it has. When HTH started I was brought in to modernise the image of Harris Tweed and make it relevant again while not in any way betraying the traditions of the industry.

Would you say the Japanese had kept Harris Tweed afloat (as they have for some very Trad American brands like JPress).
The Japanese undoubtedly kept Harris Tweed afloat. Irrespective of actual order volume, their desire for the integrity of the product remained when the US and European markets had been seduced by lighter cheaper, often synthetic fabrics.

What have been your less visible but important successes?
The Parisian fashion houses like Dior and YSL do not order great volumes of Harris Tweed but they are at the apex of the industry because their ethos is about quality and traceability which is where we sell. This sends out a great message.

Nigel Cabourn's Autumn/Winter2011 features a ton of Harris Tweed. Is this HTH cloth or his own connection with a weaver, and does a "rising tide float all boats" as it were and you see any news of this kind as good for the industry generally?
Most of this cloth is HTH cloth, although I believe that he has some pieces woven at the smaller Carloway Mill too. Nigel Cabourn has a genuine sense of provenance and I believe he was and indeed would be doing heritage fabric and design regardless of whether it is vogue. Harris Tweed will be greatly helped by designers with his ethos. I hope that Harris Tweed will become like a Burberry trenchcoat; never out of fashion because function and style trump fashion.

Do you see Harris Tweed as a heritage item / fashion / historical?
In the literal sense I don't see it as a fashion item. Oscar Wilde said fashion is such an awful concept that it has to redefine itself every six months and I agree. Harris Tweed has no element of planned obsolescence. We see ourselves as 'The brand behind the brands'. It is historically important because there is a near mystical relationship between Harris Tweed and The Hebridean land and people. It is integral to Hebridean history and it's roller-coaster story reaches far beyond a basic industry.

Finally, do you have a favorite Harris Tweed item you own, new or old, a jacket or suit or cape or furnishing or anything? I have a vintage Harris Tweed herringbone Marks & Spencer's classic jacket (J.Crew will do a similar one for A/W 11) which is over 40 years-old. It looks better than ever and has been everywhere from Sao Paulo to Sydney, Havana to Helsinki. No true man of discerning taste should not have a Harris Tweed jacket in their closet.


"... there is a near mystical relationship between Harris Tweed and The Hebridean land and people. It is integral to Hebridean history and it's roller-coaster story reaches far beyond a basic industry." That quote from Mark is powerful stuff. I have to note that throughout all the general low-level beer-blogging here at 10e, tweed and its cultural importance is something I take dead seriously... Having a chance to interview someone directly connected to the Harris Tweed industry was a real kick, and an honour frankly. Could not be happier to have this (and my next....) post up on a larger platform.

Note: to determine the date of your Harris Tweed jacket you can estimate by examining the label type with this guide. The small numbers inked onto the side corroloate to the actual crofter who wove the cloth. The Harris Tweed Authority keeps records of these numbers and may be making them searchable online; really hope that happens.