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Harris Tweed Hebrides plans to follow Bric road

Harris Tweed Hebrides, the three-year-old Lewis firm behind the historic fabric’s global renaissance, yesterday unveiled plans to target the world’s four fastest-growing economies as part of an ambitious marketing strategy.

The firm, which accounts for around 90% of the industry’s output, is now working closely with Scottish Development International and UKTI to explore the “Bric” countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China .

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Mark Hogarth, the creative director of Harris Tweed Hebrides, yesterday told The Herald that he expects to add between 25% and 50% to last year’s £4 million turnover in 2011 on the back of growing demand – but said he could not be specific about how much revenue might be generated from the push into the Bric nations.

He said: “From my point of view, Harris Tweed is an easy sell. Its quality is widely recognised – from the Paris fashion houses to our biggest markets in Germany and Japan.

“So we are stretching into the Bric countries from a position of strength.

“My job has been to take the image of Harris tweed on from Miss Marple and Professor Robert Langdon of the Da Vinci Code, and I think we are succeeding in making it more applicable to younger buyers.

“I will say that the potential for success in the Bric countries is enormous, but at the end of the day it depends on what the designers do with it.

“In Russia, for example, we’ve had enquiries from a yacht maker who wants to use the material to cover the walls of his yachts to provide an exclusive touch.”

At home, Harris tweed has been cashing in on Dr Who’s latest incarnation – played by Matt Smith – who wears a tweed jacket and has been a major influence in persuading younger consumers to buy garments made of the fabric.

The hand-made cloth traditionally beloved by the country set made its high street debut last autumn after a deal with Topman, which has already put in repeat orders.

Mr Hogarth and Harris Tweed Hebrides chairman Brian Wilson have visited India, going to Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh .

The material is already widely available in India, although the company has plans to push deeper into the market.

Mr Wilson said: “Harris Tweed is quite widely available, well-known and highly respected in India. The history goes back a long way. We already supply a fair amount via our agent and more comes in through fabric distributors.

“However, what we saw convinced us that there is potential for growth.

“At present, the market is among older men and the trick will be to extend their awareness of Harris Tweed to the new middle class who are numerous, wealthy and aspirational.”

Harris Tweed Hebrides has also recently appointed an agent in China for the first time, and the company has been invited by SDI/UKTI to take part in promotions of UK luxury goods in Sao Paulo and Moscow.

Asked if he was concerned about meeting global demand because a total of 110 sub-contracted weavers limits the scale of the operation, Mr Hogarth added: “We haven’t reached our limit yet, but, from the point of view of someone marketing Harris tweed, finite production makes it an even easier sell.

“The quality is a given. When you buy a Harris tweed jacket you have it for life. But finite production means the goods automatically become exclusive. It also makes it easier to propel it into new markets.

“That means the future has less to do with fashion and more to do with the growing demand for quality and provenance around the world. I’m convinced Harris Tweed is here to stay.”

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