NEW YORK — The dyeing process and methods used to create Harris Tweed are so complex, “there’s almost a Harry Potter element” about it, said Mark Hogarth, creative director for Harris Tweed Hebrides, the world’s leading producer of the famed fabric.
“Every single meter of Harris Tweed has been checked and stamped for approval by the Harris Tweed Authority,” he said at a Glasgow Caledonian University town hall event here Tuesday night. And the agency is methodical about confirming the quality and authenticity of every piece.
“We have a great act of Parliament that stops any other hand-woven tweed to be [classified as] Harris Tweed,” he added, referring to the Harris Tweed Act of Parliament passed in 1993 that strictly outlines the exact conditions under which the fabric can be produced.
Hogarth was joined by the company’s chairman, Brian Wilson, along with long-time customer Brooks Brothers’ senior fabric specialist, Doug Shriver, and fashion director, Glen Hoffs, for GCU New York’s “Fashion Sharing Progress” series, launched at the GCU British School of Fashion last year. The night was moderated by Nick Sullivan, Esquire’s fashion director.
To Harris Tweed Hebrides, Hogarth said, sustainability and authenticity are of the utmost importance.
“We sustain a very remote community in Scotland and the Western Isle of Lewis,” he said. “Thirty to 40 hands touch this one piece of cloth which is woven by hand. It’s the only place you can get Harris Tweeds. Just like Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s from one area of France, so are Harris Tweeds from this one place in Scotland.”
The company, based at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis, was recently named U.K. Textile Company of the Year. Though the firm was established in the 1800s, the process of creating the tweeds remains virtually the same today.
“We only have around 130 weavers who make three to four pieces that are 60 meters a week,” said Wilson. “It’s all created by looms and [the wool] is hand spun. There are just so many looms for so many weavers. The weavers control just how many of the looms they have and how many weavers there are total. It would lead to a boom and bust, so we keep it tight.”
The tweeds have been a staple at Brooks Brothers for more than 80 years and are highly sought after by customers.
“It’s such an iconic cloth,” said Hoffs, who visited Scotland to see the tweed-creating process up-close. “There are many customers looking in our stores who come in and just ask for Harris Tweeds. Those people are true aficionados and see it and know what it looks like.”