June 15, 2008

Work Still Flowing for Harris Tweed Weavers

THE Yorkshire manager of a large textile mill in the Outer Hebrides hit back yesterday after reports it is ceasing production.

It was claimed that production of world famous Harris Tweed had stopped at Kenneth MacKenzie Mill and was not expected to resume again until the end of the year, putting almost 150 jobs at risk.

Workers, including 44 staff employed at the mill and 100 self- employed weavers who work a loom at their own homes, are fearing for their livelihoods due to a lack of work.

But John Alderson, manager of the Stornoway mill on Lewis, said work would still be "trickling" out to weavers until September or October and denied any pending crisis.

He said: "We are still sending out tweed to the weavers and that will continue to trickle out until September to October at least.

"It's not a massive amount but it's not a small amount either."

Mr Alderson, a former councillor on Craven District Council,

in Yorkshire, said that some areas of production had been "temporarily held up" due to drainage work being carried out on the mill site

and the arrival of new machinery in August but denied that production had stopped completely.

Mr Alderson, who moved to Lewis 18 months ago, resigned both as Cowling ward councillor on Craven Council and as chairman of Cowling Parish Council last summer after being criticised for claiming he could represent his ward from his new home 450 miles away.

The operation at Stornoway - the biggest in the industry - is owned by Yorkshire textile entrepreneur Brian Haggas, who took control of the mill at the end of 2006.

The mill produces 95 per cent of all Harris Tweed.

Mr Haggas is understood to be on holiday and was not available for comment last night.

He recently came under fire from both weavers and politicians for adopting a controversial new strategy to concentrate efforts solely on men's jackets in just four patterns.

But Mr Alderson said it was about time the critics "backed off".

He added: "He doesn't know whether it'll work and nobody else does but he should be given a chance to find out."

The range of garments - named Barvas, Laxdale, Tarnasay and Dalmore - are marketed under a newly-established company called Harris Tweed Scotland, which operates in Keighley.

The Yorkshire sales team is currently waiting for confirmation of retail orders for the

new season, which begins on September 1.

Mr Alderson said there was a massive stockpile of the cloth in China to deal with orders, enough to make 70,000 jackets.

Chinese workers are currently making the garments for export back to Britain, Europe and the US in addition to other global markets.

More than 30 self-employed weavers, who send their tweeds to the mills for finishing, were made redundant at the Mackenzie mill last month.

Some weavers have now written to the Scottish Government to ask it to intervene to help save the future of the Harris Tweed industry

Brian Wilson, a former UK Government minister and now chairman of a company reopening Shawbost Mill on Lewis said Harris Tweed mills must work together for the benefit of the industry and Highlands economy.

Shawbost Mill, on the west side of Lewis, is being brought back to life with funding from Scots oil entrepreneur Iain Taylor.

Harris Tweed Textiles said its mill at Carloway was also taking on two more staff to meet demand for its products for both high fashion and soft furnishings.

(c) 2008 Yorkshire Post. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.