Tweed the world
The Harris Tweed certification trade mark is an example of British branding success that speaks to large and small businesses.
Clarke’s 2012 Harris Tweed desert boot
…are trade marks with a difference. They guarantee that goods or services meet a defined standard or possess a particular characteristic. This ancient method of identifying products has its roots in the medieval guild system. Groups of traders, characterised by profession or location, were recognised through their guild and the reputation that was associated with it. At the beginning of the twentieth century the need to adapt this business model to modern business birth to the certification mark.
Because of the unique association between a certification mark and the quality and nature of products, some of the normal trade marks rules do not apply. For example normally unregistrable geographical names may be accepted as certification marks where the mark is capable of distinguishing products.
The miracle of Harris
The oldest British certification mark is recognised all over the world. The success of the Harris Tweed Authority’s certification mark demonstrates that successful branding, in the global economy, can be achieved by small groups of businesses.
The Harris Tweed certification mark - number 319214 registered in 1909
It is hard to imagine a more difficult location for successful business to survive than in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The chain of around seventy islands, stretching for one hundred and thirty miles along the Atlantic seaboard of Scotland, with a population of around 26,500, lashed by gales, unconnected by road, often only accessible by boat, appears better suited to the development of survival, rather than branding, techniques.
But the Harris Tweed certification mark and the subsequent act of Parliament that enshrined the definition of Harris Tweed, is a truly remarkable piece of intellectual property. To carry famous Harris Tweed mark, cloth must be:
"Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides." Harris Tweed Act - 1993
This definition is the nearest thing to a magic spell any of us are likely to see. In 1909, when the certification mark was registered, the islands of Scotland was suffering from depression, depopulation and outward migration. Tweed from the area was popular, but with the development of new production techniques, the industry would not have survived in its present form today.
The unique selling point of Harris Tweed is that it must be ‘handwoven by the islanders’. In the industrial complexes of the mainland, handloom weavers would have given anything for a law that prevented mechanisation. The Harris Tweed Authority created a way of spinning gold out of straw. Harris Tweed is made by individuals working in their homes on machines that they power themselves – it is a literally a cottage industry, perhaps one of the last in the world to produce goods for the global market. The definition of Harris Tweed substantiates an image: the solitary weaver, working in a bothy on the wind blasted slope of a practically empty island valley. Every inch of Harris Tweed that leaves the Hebrides is made in this way, so when a customer buys Harris Tweed they get a garment… and some of the island’s magic.
The Guardians of the Orb
Harris Tweed’s success depends on many things: the unique means of production; the romance of the island location; the quality of the product itself are important, but so too are the commitment of the islanders; the loyalty of the customers and the vision of the ‘team tweed’. Tweed cloth from Harris is sought after by designers all over the world. Harris Tweed has global reach and packs a punch on the catwalks of the world.
Perhaps Vivien Westwood started the tweed makeover in the 1980’s;
Lorna Macauley, Chief Executive of the Harris Tweed Association, spoke about the success of the Harris Tweed certification mark from her office in Stornaway:
“The markets for Harris Tweed have shifted somewhat in recent years, with Japan now the largest market, followed closely by Germany who have been a strong and stable customer base for many decades. We are selling very well into China, South America, Korea and India also. We are really pleased the American market has come back strong over the last year and we believe there is much more we could be doing there.”
“In what has clearly been one of the most challenging economic periods for the UK in 50 years, the Harris Tweed industry is bucking the trend by showing manufacturing growth of 30% year on year since 2009. Harris Tweed production peaked in 1966 at 7.6 million yards of cloth leaving this island. In 2012 we will achieve an important milestone for the current industry of 1 million metres plus. For a variety of reasons, it is unlikely we will ever see volumes of the 1960's again, but we are very focused on becoming a much better industry, if not a much bigger one.”
The special thing about the Western isles of Scotland is that it’s a bad place to be industrial. The unique thing about intellectual property is that it creates opportunities. For over a hundred years the Harris Tweed certification mark has exemplified quality, style and a unique feel. There’s no reason why the yarn shouldn’t run forever.
‘The visionaries who registered the Orb Trademark in 1909 were indeed just that - visionaries; clearly however they were not to see 100 years into the future the advances of internet and the challenges that brings to protecting a TM from infringement and counterfeiting,’ says Lorna Macauley. ‘Here in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland we are a long way away from the commercial markets in which Harris Tweed is sold. We do not however let that hinder our efforts to protect our various marks registered throughout the world. We use the best legal advisers in the country and will (and have!) pursued any individual or business who attempt to undermine what is so important and valued both by the people of the Outer Hebrides, but by our customers also.’
For more information visit the Harris Tweed website.