The history of the Harris Tweed trademark

By the end of the 19th Century, lesser quality tweed fabrics, exploiting the niche created by Harris Tweed and marketed as Harris Tweed, began to appear in the merchant’s warehouses. These ‘shoddy’ cloths, often woven with machine spun yarn from mills as far south as Yorkshire, began to undermine the markets confidence in genuine Harris Tweed.

In 1906 the Harris Tweed Association was formed with the purpose of establishing a trademark to protect the authentic Harris Tweed industry and the livelihoods of the crofters in the Western Isles.

Lengthy consultation concluded with the Harris Tweed Association publishing the following definition for genuine Harris Tweed.

“Harris Tweed means a tweed, hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides."

The Harris Tweed definition was registered in 1910 and inspectors were employed by the Association to authenticate and stamp, with the registered trademark, all genuine Harris Tweed. The mark consisted of an orb with a Maltese cross on the top of it, with the words Harris Tweed underneath the symbol.

The years following the First World War were prolific for Harris Tweed. To meet the huge demand for the handmade fabric and with hand finishing falling from fashion, tweed producers began to supply machine spun yarn to the crofters and it was not uncommon for tweed to be sent to the mainland for finishing.

In 1934, after much debate, the trademarked definition of genuine Harris Tweed was amended to read,

“Harris Tweed means a tweed made from pure virgin wool produced in Scotland, spun, dyed and finished in Outer Hebrides and hand-woven by the islanders at their own homes in the Islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist, Barra and their several purtenances and all known as the Outer Hebrides.”

Thirty years later in 1964, following a dispute between textile manufacturers on the Scottish mainland and producers in the Western Isles of Scotland, a Court of Session ruling re-enforced the 1934 definition of Harris Tweed and made it quite clear that for tweed to be genuine Harris Tweed, all production processes must take place in the Western Isles.

In 1993 an act of parliament, the Harris Tweed Act 1993, established the Harris Tweed Authority as the successor to the Harris Tweed Association, its purpose being “to promote and maintain the authenticity, standard and reputation of Harris Tweed; for preventing the sale as Harris Tweed of material which does not fall within the definition...”

And with this act the following definition of genuine Harris Tweed became statutory.

“Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Today, every 50 metres of genuine Harris Tweed are checked by an inspector from the Harris Tweed Authority before being stamped, by hand, with the orb symbol. All tweed men’s jackets made from genuine Harris Tweed carry the orb trademark.

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