HE has been hailed as the saviour of Harris Tweed and damned as its devastator. For 13 controversial years Brian Haggas has owned what was once the biggest producer of Scotland’s

best-known heritage fabric. Now the Yorkshireman – 88 years old and publicity-shy – has handed Stornoway’s historic Kenneth Mackenzie mill over to his local manager ...free.

Mr Haggas’s tenure was one of the most eventful in the business’s 110-year history and included a cull of its workers and slashing the number of patterns offered to just five. However, the owner also lost what was an effective monopoly of the industry after a serious rival emerged.

The veteran textile tycoon gave the mill to its manager, Alex Lockerby, safeguarding the jobs of about 80 people – 50 home-based weavers and 30 mill staff.

Renowned globally and protected by an Act of Parliament, the famous Harris Tweed Orb mark guarantees the cloth is made from pure virgin wool dyed, spun and hand woven by islanders at their homes in the Hebrides.

Harris Tweed is enjoying a renaissance after shaking off its old crusty image, and is particularly a particular favourite in Japan, America and Europe.

Mr Haggas said: “Alex and I have worked together for a number of years. He is an exceptionally able, totally honest and a superb man and manager.

I have come to believe the iconic name of Harris Tweed belongs to the people of the Western Isles.

“It is not something for financial vultures to buy and strip out all the cash, leaving the company bankrupt.”

Mr Haggas added: “Harris Tweed fabric is an integral part of the Western Isles and, as such, should be owned and produced by the islands and any profits should remain there to enhance the life of the people.”

Mr Lockerby said: “I am astounded by this act of generosity by Brian Haggas and also overwhelmed by the confidence he has shown in me.

“Throughout the process he has shown true Yorkshire grit and integrity. I and the staff at Kenneth Mackenzie would like to extend our warmest thanks and gratitude to him.”

Mr Haggas’s strategy of reducing his number of patterns was foiled by a massive downturn in demand in the wake of the great recession hitting just after he assumed control.

He was left with a massive stockpile of tens of thousands of jackets. The backlog resulted in the Stornoway plant’s shock closure in 2009 – the first time no mills operated in the town since the establishment of the Harris Tweed industry over a century before.

In its absence, newcomer Harris Tweed Hebrides, led by former Labour government minister Brian Wilson and financed by the multi-millionaire oil trader Ian Taylor, took over the vacant Shawbost mill and recruited many of the redundant Stornoway mill workforce, ramped up production and clinched the top spot.

The only other Harris Tweed producer is the small Carloway Mill

in Lewis.

Mr Haggas restarted production in the spring of 2010, installing £1 million of modern equipment, and re-roofed the building.

In recent years, the business has returned to sell fabric to the open market and hired more staff but not to the high levels as before.

Mr Lockerby said he is adopting

a “steady as she goes” approach, with

an eye for organic business growth to maintain a sustainable future for the mill and employees.

He said: “We are happy with the

state of our order book and there will be no drastic changes.”

Harris Tweed is believed to be

the only commercially-produced,

hand-woven fabric in the world.

Overall, the sector is estimated to

be worth in excess of £12 million

and supports 400 jobs in the


Production of Harris Tweed is central to the islands’ economic wellbeing, with the sector providing more than 50 per cent of manufacturing jobs.

Robert Mackenzie Ltd filed abbreviated small company accounts as of August last year showing it had nearly £2m of cash in hand.

It is currently listed as being controlled by a dormant company called Xangongo, which, in turns, names

Mr Haggas as its person of significant control with a shareholding of 75%

or more.