At its meeting yesterday in Stornoway, the Harris Tweed Industry Forum welcomed the news that 2012 has been the best year for production of the cloth in nearly 15 years.
Since 2009, the Industry Forum has collaborated on a strategy to support the growth and development of the Harris Tweed industry. In particular, a joint approach to skills and training has paid dividends. Nearly 40 new Harris Tweed weavers have entered the workforce in the past four years, and an increasingly structured approach to training means that the majority of weavers are now trained to SVQ Level 2.
Ian Angus Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Harris Tweed Hebrides, confirmed: "We are delighted with the progress the industry is making: it has been a good year for the mills and the weavers. We are confident that we currently have the right balance in terms of number of weavers, weaver capacity and market demand. We are looking to continue to grow the value and diversity of the international market for the cloth, and this incremental growth will be supported by existing weavers and new entrants due to natural turnover within the workforce."
This view was endorsed by The Carloway Mill Harris Tweed, with mill representative Bruce Armitage adding that: "It is important to continue to maintain a balance between the increased market demand and the ability of the industry to deliver to the market; including a stable weaver population."
Lorna Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, commented: "I am pleased to confirm that nearly 40 new weavers have entered the workforce over the past four years and are now making a significant contribution to production capacity, which has been met with an increasing appetite for the cloth at home and overseas."
The Industry Forum, which consists of representatives from the Harris Tweed Authority, the Weavers Association, the Harris Tweed Mills, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, also discussed initial findings of a study into loom enhancement and modification, and agreed to prioritise progress in this area over the coming year.