In the mid-19th century, the Isle of Harris was owned by the Earl of Dunmore and his wife, Lady Dunmore, who first saw the potential for selling this fabric,produced by the tenants on their looms, to her acquaintances in London.
As its reputation grew rapidly, and Harris Tweed was embraced by royalty, the industry had to be adapted to commercial production – while still maintaining the crucial requirement that it must be hand woven at the home of the weaver.
Success led to imitations and legal protection was sought for the genuine article. The Harris Tweed Association was formed in 1909 a year later, the world-famous Orb trade mark, which authenticates genuine Harris Tweed, was adopted. This provided common law protection as a certification trademark and ultimately led to an Act of Parliament at Westminster which was passed in 1993.
As Harris Tweed boomed, the Hattersley domestic loom was introduced in the 1920s and could be found in more than 1000 Hebridean homes for the next half century. The industry brought prosperity to the island economy when there was little else to sustain it.
With fashion and lifestyle changes, there was a decline in sales from the 1980s onwards. In response to market demands, a double-width handloom was developed and then introduced in the 1990s, bringing a period of stability to the industry.
Harris Tweed is the only hand woven fabric produced in commercial quantities. The yarn production process uses specially blended yarns produced to secret recipes and then warped up to exclusive designs before being sent to weavers’ homes to be hand woven by highly skilled weavers.
The cloth is then returned to the mill to be finished in a modern finishing plant to a very high standard. The next stage in the process is examination by the independent Harris Tweed Authority, before application of the famous Orb trademark which is ironed onto the fabric as the ultimate seal of approval.
Only then is it genuine, authenticated Harris Tweed. The Orb has served the industry well as a safeguard against imitations and is the oldest British trade mark in continuous use.