By Kristy Dorsey

Award-winning manufacturer Harris Tweed Hebrides has said a trade deal between the UK and the EU will be key to establishing stability within Scotland’s textiles industry, which is worth more than £300 million annually.

Brian Wilson, chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides (HTH), said the firm will be forced to underwrite the possibility of a no-deal Brexit when it completes its annual price review in July. If it then emerges the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) results in the imposition of trade tariffs, the company will be forced to absorb the cost.

Across the industry, “everybody is in the same boat”, he added.

Angus Mackenzie, chief executive of HTH, explained: “At this point, nothing has changed except the certainty that we are leaving.

“We still face the possibility of no deal at the end of this year, and the potential imposition of import-export duties. This will probably run right up to the end of this year, and we have to set prices

in July.

“Our market will not be able to absorb a price rise of that level so we would have to take the hit. On the slightly positive side, the EU accounts for less than 20% of our business so, although Brexit is a concern, it is not going to be a disaster.”

The UK remains the biggest single market for HTH, with Japan accounting for the largest share of exports. Mr Wilson said the impact on others within the textiles industry will vary depending on the level of sales each has with customers within the EU.

According to figures from Scottish Enterprise, the country’s textile exports are worth £325m annually, with the industry’s overall gross added value (GVA) at £322m. The sector employs an estimated 9,000 people across approximately 550 companies.

“It depends on what comes out the other end,” Mr Wilson said of the Brexit negotiations.

“If there are no tariffs and no bureaucracy, then there is no problem. If there is no deal, then there is a problem.”

HTH was formed in 2007 when Mr Wilson, Mr Mackenzie and fellow director Ian Taylor took over the disused Shawbost Mill on the Isle of Lewis. The company now provides work for 70 people at its mill and 140 independent weavers who work from home, making it one of the most significant private sector employers in the

Outer Hebrides.

Latest accounts filed with Companies House show that HTH made a profit of £1.5m during the year to December 2018 on sales of £8.4m.

Mr Wilson said current trading remained “steady”, as there is no scope for major growth. Harris Tweed is the only fabric in the world protected by its own Act of Parliament – which dictates that it must be handwoven at the home of the weaver – and this finite workforce limits

total output.

Mr Wilson, a former UK trade and industry minister, said about 90% of HTH cloth was used to make men’s jackets 12 years ago after the firm was first established. That has fallen to less than 50% as sales have expanded into areas such as ladies’ fashion, accessories and home interiors.

HTH therefore has an active presence on the fashion trade circuit, attending an average of about a dozen major events each year. HTH representatives just recently returned from the Pitti Uomo men’s fabric show in Florence earlier this month.

“These events are very important,” Mr Wilson said.

“The basic thing to understand is that we make fabric, rather than the end-product, and we sell it to a vast range of clients who put it to a vast range of uses.”

Trade shows allow the company to maintain relationships with buyers, and see how they are putting HTH’s cloth to use. This is a particularly important factor as Brexit negotiations continue.

“It is about keeping close to the customers,” Mr Wilson said. “In these situations of uncertainty, we must make sure they know that our product is still available, and that they won’t have to pay more for it.”