by Alison MacRae
Celtic Guide Magazine
The island of Harris is in the Outer Hebrides. The Scottish Gaelic name is Na Hearadh.
Harris is known for Harris Tweed. In Gaelic, the name is Clo Mor which translates to "the big cloth."
Harris Tweed is woven by Islanders at their homes. It is made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun, and finished in the Outer Hebrides.
Originally the wool was washed in soft peat water and then coloured with dyes from local plants and scraped from the rocks.
The wool used for Harris Tweed once came solely from the Blackface sheep. like the one shown below.
This wool is very coarse.
Now Harris Tweed wool also comes from the Cheviot sheep (shown below), which is a breed of white-faced sheep. It is raised mostly for its wool.
The wool is dyed, spun and handwoven by the Islanders in their homes and the mill.
No other fabric can call itself Harris Tweed, and it is believed to be the only commercially produced handwoven fabric in the world.
There are three mills on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, individually owned.
The Kenneth Mackenzie mill, the successor of the Lewis Mills, was established in 1906, and is situated in Stornoway.
The Carloway Mill is in the village of Carloway. It is the smallest of the three existing Harris Tweed textile mills.
The Harris Tweed Hebrides company reopened a disused mill in Shawbost in 2007.
In 1909 the formation of the Harris Tweed Authority was established to ensure that the fabric was not in danger of being imitated of inferior quality.
The now-famous Orb trademark appears on every single Harris Tweed item to prove that it is made from genuine Harris Tweed.
The Orb trademark was campaigned for in 1920 by James Macdonald who was born on the Isle of Lewis to add to mill spun yarn. The ruling was amended in 1933 as James was then the only mill that had machinery.
The Harris Tweed Orb mark is the United kingdom oldest certification mark and is recognised all over the world. Certification marks are trademarks with a difference. This ancient method of identifying products has its roots in the medieval guild system. It is the only fabric in the world governed by its own Act of Parliament, and the only fabric produced in commercial quantities by truly traditional methods.
This unique act is policed by the Harris Tweed Authority who monitors all fabric on a daily basis. Every 50 metres of fabric is inspected and approved before being stamped by hand with the Orb trademark.
No other fabric can call itself Harris Tweed.
The weavers are self-employed, they are also able to work as a mill weaver and can be commissioned by the three mills as an independent weaver.
When Mr Brian Haggas took over the Kenneth Mackenzie Mill, the oldest of the Harris Tweed in production in 2006 there was a lot of controversies.
The number of patterns produced at the mill was cut from then 800 to just four. The business began focusing on making men's jackets only.
This approach was later dropped, the range of patterns since increased, and the mill cloth is now used to make handbags, belts, headphones,watch-straps, shoes as well as jackets.
The use of Harris Tweed is endless and is shipped to fashion houses, independent designers multi-national companies, small clothing labels and famous tailers.
All this comes from the crofts and mills on the Island.
Mr Brian Haggas retired in September 2019. He was 88 years of age. He had been in the textile business most of his life. He did not pass it along to his son.
His son is a British racehorse thoroughbred trainer, and his father-in-law is the famous professional jockey, Lester Piggott.
Mr Brian Haggas is a Yorkshire man and used to commute to the Isle of Lewis for business at the mill.
It was a great surprise to everyone when Mr Brian Haggas decided to give the mill as a gift to his manager, Alex Lockerby, who is a Ranish resident on the Isle of Lewis.
He released the following: "As from today Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd will be wholly owned by Mr Alex Lockerby. Alex and I have worked together for a number of years. He is exceptionally able and totally honest and a superb man and manger. I have come to believe that the iconic name of Harris Tweed belongs to the people of the Western Isles. It is not something for financial vultures to buy or strip all the cash leaving the company bankrupt."
Mr Lockery replied "I am astounded by this act of generosity by Mr Haggas also overwhelmed by the confidence he has shown in me. Our relationship was always one of mutual trust and we were very much on the same page as to how the rebuilding progress should be implemented."
Yes, Mr Brian Haggas has won over the people of Lewis and Harris for what he has done. They hold him in high esteem for doing this and safeguarding 80 jobs, 50 home-based weavers and 30 mill staff.