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Happy new year as Harris Tweed to star in major European shows

It adorns garments worn by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna.

IN FASHION: Harris Tweed is the star.
IN FASHION: Harris Tweed is the star.

Now Harris Tweed is to be showcased at the world's major menswear show in the fashionable city of Florence.

The fabric is undergoing a revival, as its celebrity endorsements show, and it will play a ­starring role this week at the Pitti Uomo event before going on to feature at Maison et Objet, the celebrated interiors and ­accessories show in Paris.

The leading producer of the iconic island fabric, which is used in everything from upmarket handbags and hotels to US ­motorcycle jackets, will be at both prestigious events.

Harris Tweed Hebrides, the company based at Shawbost on the west of Lewis, has led the revival of the industry after years of apparently irrevocable decline and is growing still.

It ends the year with orders up by 25% compared to the ­previous 12 months, creating "a very strong platform for 2014".

It was named UK Textile Company of the Year in 2013 as well as Scotland's Fashion Ambassador of the Year, and accounts for about 90 % of Harris Tweed production.

In 2012 output for the whole industry exceeded the million metre mark for the first time since 1993, and that is understood to have risen to 1.2 million metres last year.

Harris Tweed Hebrides now provides work for more than 140 home-based weavers, including an increasing number of younger recruits to the industry.

The age profile of the 75-strong workforce at the Shawbost Mill is also falling.

This follows a recently announced £1 million investment programme including the ­acquisition of ten double-width looms that are being leased to weavers in order to bring new entrants into the industry.

Harris Tweed Hebrides ­chairman Brian Wilson, a former UK Government trade minister, is attending Pitti Uomo with ­creative director Mark Hogarth, while marketing director ­Margaret MacLeod is heading to Paris later in the month. Mr Wilson said: "It is essential to keep opening up new markets and to work with existing clients, many of whom attend Pitti Uomo from all over the world.

"It is the first indicator of how they plan to use Harris Tweed in the year ahead, and an opportunity to discuss how we might work with them.

"Japan is still our major market but the exchange rate has moved against us there. It does not seem to be having much impact at present but it is a reminder of why we always need to seek diversification of both markets and sectors for our product."

He said interiors had been "a major growth area last year" and there were strong indications this would continue into 2014.

Chief executive Ian Angus MacKenzie said: "We saw a big surge in orders late in the year, which means that we now have a very strong platform for 2014 . We start from a better position than last year, which was itself pretty good.

"In the past, the ordering season did not really begin until into the new year but we have managed to get the message across that ordering early is the best way of ensuring that demand can be met.

"It is good news for the weavers as we are now able to provide them with year-round work. "

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