Thursday, 17 September 2009

Up and down

Contrary to my suspicions on Monday, the Uist rocket range was reprieved from closure. This means that 125 people in the Southern Isles will keep their jobs, and the threat to the upkeep of the St Kilda national reserve is removed. I fully back Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond in his praise of the efforts of the Taskforce and others, thanks to whom the range will now remain open. Losing 125 jobs in a community of 5,000 would equate to losing 125,000 jobs across London - at a stroke.

BBC4 has been running a three-part documentary on the present plight of Harris Tweed. The 3rd instalment will be aired next Tuesday, 22 September, at 9pm. BBC4 is not available on terrestrial television; the episodes can be seen on BBC iPlayer - if you're in the UK. Apologies for the plugging of BBC services.

More to the point, it showed the fate of the Kenneth Mackenzie Harris Tweed Mill here in Stornoway, which was mothballed earlier this year, shedding all of its attendant jobs. Owner Brian Haggas had sought to convert it to a production unit for men's jackets made out of Harris Tweed, with 4 patterns. He utterly failed to grasp the idea behind Harris Tweed. And as a result, he as good as had to admit failure of his Stornoway enterprise.

Harris Tweed is still in demand, as the programme shows. However, with production capacity of tweed and yarn reduced drastically, it would require the re-opening of the KM mill in Stornoway. For that, it would probably be advisable for Mr Haggas to sell the plant, in order to cut his losses. If not, Harris Tweed is doomed to be reduced to handbags and seatcovers.


  1. Offer him £1 and start a cooperative?

  2. Mr Haggas leaves one speechless. Good idea, Barney! If I knew anything about running a mill, I'd do it myself :-)
    Thanks, Arnish. Apart from the Harris tweed aspect, the programme has excellent shots of Lewis, so it may have some benefit from a tourism viewpoint.

  3. I've been watching this programme with interest. I'm a very proud Yorkshire lass in love with the Western Isles, but Mr Haggas made me feel ashamed of my Yorkshire roots. Such arrogance and lack of understanding astounded me.
    I do hope all the patterns can be rescued (who in their right mind would cut down to four bland patterns from such a rich heritage?!) and Harris Tweed see a good trade again - a co-operative sounds an excellent idea.

  4. I too have been watching the BBC4 prog featuring Harris Tweed and the surrounding story. Mr Haggas may well have been a very successful businessman in the past but he REALLY goofed on the issue of Harris Tweed........8000 patterns reduced to 4, are you mad..!!!! I had not fully appreciated the complexity and living nature of the weaves...they are a thing of beauty. I have now purchased 2 vintage Harris Tweed jackets from ebay and will wear with great pride this winter. (If you see generously rounded (fat-bloke) walking along like little Lord Fauntleroy, give me a wave and a smile as I will be in a little world of my own.
    Mr Haggas, you have brought yourself in some disrepute and have created a very sad legacy for yourself, shame on you Sir.
    Harris Tweed will now be revitalised by very passionate designers /taylors and wearers........YUM

  5. I got a tour of the mill from a weaver I know last year and heard the many and various mutterings from the men and women there. They all knew the plans were doomed to fail but Mr H wouldn't listen. Like a certain Yorkshire business man decades earlier he knew what was best for the natives. And likewise he came a cropper.

    However, in Haggas' defence the four tweeds he chose are excellent, and i've had the privilege of putting in a few wefts on one of the twills. There's a huge wooden cabinet full of drawers of swatches at the mill and he really chose some fine ones from it. His jackets are also well styled with a clean modern classic cut.

    However, his marketing plan is retarded. It took him the best part of a year to establish any brand identity or even a dedicated website to the product. To purchase online you had to trawl through his godawful Brook Taverner site and even there the links were broken and images missing. His refusal to fulfill orders from long established clients across the world was criminal. His selfishness in the spare parts debacle was oafish (the Sy mill had drawers of looms spares which he refused to give or sell to weavers not working for him). To gain monopoly of an industry and then use it to create a single product to sell to a single client base (namely his own, middle of the road, Alan Partridge menswear chains) is insane and shows the level of the man's arrogance.

    I suspect tho that he's not the sort to give up easily, an upside to arrogance, and will be back with an amended plan. More tweeds, another style or two but essentially still chasing his idea of how tweed should be worn. There IS a market there for this but it shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of it's purpose.

    There are millions of pounds worth of brand new machinery sitting idle in his mill right now. I hope that HTH will be able to expand and take it over. Or failing that, Mr Haggas finally gets his gameplan in order and starts to play a role in the tweed industry revival. And he'd better start playing ball with the other industry figures too, this is a team effort not a competition.

    The upside is that there's no shortage of work for the weavers at the moment. The weaver I know now works for Shawbost and is peddling like mad...