Monday, 2 March 2009

Mill closed down

The former Kenneth Mackenzie's Harris Tweed mill in Stornoway has been mothballed, and all its staff laid off. Production has ceased until further notice, provisionally for a year, but possibly much longer. This morning, staff attended a meeting and were told of the closure as of Wednesday 4 March. For the first time in many decades, no Harris Tweed will be produced in Stornoway.

The closure results from policies, adopted by the mill's current owner Brian Haggas of Keighley in West Yorkshire. He only wishes to produce tweed for his line of men's jackets, and he has 70,000 jackets lying in storage which are very slow to sell. As the tweed is ringfenced for Mr Haggas's jackets and no other product, production has been halted.

Although there appears to be demand for tweed, it will most certainly not be met by the Stornoway mill. The mills in Shawbost and Carloway (geographically speaking: Gearrannan) are still producing. Small producers, e.g. in South Harris, are also still making tweed.

It should be born in mind that Harris Tweed is a trademark, which can only be applied to tweed for which the wool has been spun, milled and handwoven from yarn, all in the Outer Hebrides.


  1. [health warning: I don't profess to be anything approaching an expert on Harris tweed, nor do I claim an in-depth knowledge of the full history relevant to your posting, being a recent island arrival myself - so please don't shoot me down in flames for the following!]

    I watched that fascinating programme on BBC ALBA a week or so ago that was about the history of Harris tweed, and included excerpts showing Brian Haggas in full flow. It was a fascinating programme, not least because I learnt a lot about the tweed that I didn't know.

    But what struck me more than anything was that in many way Haggas was trying to keep the industry going with a new working model, for example reducing the pattern book from hundreds (?) to just half a dozen or so designs.

    The flaw in his business case, as I saw it, was that a) he used staff in Bradford to sell his product on, when he could have helped the local economy here by using suitably trained and motivated islanders who would have a vested interest in making the venture a success; and b) he seemed to be wearing rose-tinted spectacles about the whole shooting match and ignoring the heritage aspects of Harris tweed and its unique basis of origin which seemed to get lost in his overall marketing mix.

  2. sad for the local people as yet another industry folds up--no doubt the chinese will produce a cheaper version and it well sell!

  3. A crying shame. Haggas has been incredibly shortsighted and stubborn and his business model incredibly restrictive which, in this economic climate, was always going to be suicide.

    I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the mill last year and met the now unemployed workers who were obviously biting their tongues when asked how they felt about the new plans. One chap made his feeling clear when he showed me the lone four tweeds they now made and then took me over to a cabinet full of beautiful samples of the hundreds of other patterns they could produce and said they'll never be woven by them again.

    Haggas' marketing too was poor. It took him almost a year to get any sort of website together choosing to tuck the Harris Tweed jackets away in a corner of his godawful online Brook Taverner shop. x333xxx makes a good point about locating the marketing staff in Bradford also. And at the same time he was actually turning down huge orders from the mill's previous customers across Europe because they didn't fit with his plans or patterns.

    Worst of all I think his is willful ignoring of the sinking ship despite the warnings and advice from men and women who have been in the industry for years. I know many people gave him the benefit of the doubt and allowed him the chance to prove himself but now it seems what everyone could see coming has happened.

    The one, lone upside to all this is that he invested in new machines and equipment at the mill. Hopefully one day they'll get put to some use.

  4. I don't know anything about the business but it sounds like a crying shame for all concerned. Mr. haggas may have put the proverbial foot in it but I suppose he also put a sizeable codwallow of the hard stuff. Anyone who has been within 100 yards of a marketing plan knows how hard it is to get things right.

  5. Where is Les promised spelling thing?
    For codwallow (in itseelf an interesting concept), read "cod-wallop". For Mr. haggas read Mr. Haggas.
    My apologies to all concerned.
    PS. Bogs should be spontaneous and so the very occassional spelling mistake can slip past Capt. Pugwash's sea-eagle eye. Maybe Wild Freckle can help?

  6. Barney: In a nutshell his marketing plan was to take over the largest mill producing 95% of one of the world's oldest and most reputable handwoven fabrics and use to produce ONE style of men's jacket in just FOUR fabric patterns and sell it through ONE single menswear company which just happened to be his own, little known outside middle England, Brook Taverner.

    Anyone whether they'd been near a marketing plan could see this was never going to work let alone make a success of the versatility of tweed in the 21st century.

    Thank God for Harris Tweed Hebrides taking the cloth into interiors, back to fashion designers and out to international buyers woven and cut to their specification and needs.

  7. being the ignorant person that i am ,even i would know the above marketing would never work,but there again apart from rising costs thats why a lot of businesses go bust and the chinese i.e get all the orders!

  8. Interesting article in today's Herald on the fashion page. Needless to say, the egregious Mr H blames 'external forces' for his dire failure.
    "The reception of our jackets has been fantastic, but we are not selling them, even at hugely discounted prices" :???:
    Brian Wilson, strangely, disagrees... Can't think why.

  9. neither can i--- as usual the person at the head of these businesses blames everything and everyone for his bad running of things!!

  10. I haven't tried to buy any tweed recently (I do use around 13 metres a year for packaging purposes), but I believe there's still a lot of small producers around the place making tweed, and, even better, getting together, and starting their own businesses ... Garynahine weavers are just one that I know of ... And they don;t seem to have put their prices up either ...

    There's a lot more activity on isle of Harris too ... Not sure of the status of Carloway Mill, but I think Shawbost mill still has a reasonable selection ... only enough for local souvenir use admittedly ... But perhaps in time, if they get the right advice, and importantly, still have access to industrial plant to mill and finish the tweed, perhaps this sector will grow into an altogether better business ...

    I hope so anyhow ...
    And I think Haggas should be censured, fined, and persuaded to sell ... (though there's probably no legal basis for that ... Just a commonsense one) ...

  11. Haggas is right not to sell cheaply. Reducing the price of tweed has led to disaster before. But as he only has four jackets to sell then his market is kinda buggered.

    Harris Tweed Hebrides is going to lead the way, of that be sure. Interiors, fashion and custom production all the way. And on a large scale with plenty off-cuts for the souvenir business ;)

  12. Mr. haggas idea of a marketing plan seems aas smart as allowing a blind bull in a china shop (pace, Tws!). Did the market want just 4 different patterns? How did Mr. H. deduce that the market wanted just 4 different patterns? And if the reception was frabjulous, how come the products didn't sell?

  13. sorry to lower the tone, but I just have to crack up at Barneys new adjective - 'frabjulous' ...!

    Almost as giggley as his previous assertion that 'Bogs should be spontaneous' ...!!

    Barney, make the nation laugh more, boy - give up your spell-checker ...!! :-)

  14. Sweet Linda, I already have. You missed out the "aas", which was a "probable" but not "confirmed".

  15. Have you seen a Haggas produced jacket in the likes of Edinburgh Woollen Mills - there is more shape to a circus tent. He seems to be relying on deformed geography teachers and the visuallly impaired to buy his stock. The patterns are all the colour either of peat water or a Harris sky on a stormy day. Look at the patterns he has ditched - the ones that make duffle bags and caps that fill the shelves of the Tourist Information Shop. The shed on the pier at Tarbert is full of his defunct good stock at around £20 a metre and don't tell me it isn't selling because I know it is. My father has recovered three suites in it and Soaplady has a fantastic tweed covered chair in her showroom. The various uses to which tweed can be put have not been investigated. They rely on some waif on a catwalk each season to kickstart the industry whereas there should be more of a strategy than this. Now we have the world wide web perhaps a large cyber presence based in Stornoway showing the verastility of the product would be worth funding. After all they've found £2.5m for a digital broadcasting facility.

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