By Ian McConnell

HARRIS Tweed Hebrides has joined forces with Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University as it explores potential product developments and new international markets.

A key focus of the partnership will be on trying to help provide year-round work for weavers, and this will include looking at opportunities in the expanding interiors and accessories markets and for non-seasonal products more generally. The pair have announced they will work together for two years under a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the “aim of providing year-round and sustainable business demand for the Harris Tweed Hebrides brand and the home weaver industry on the isles of Lewis and Harris”.

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Robert Gordon University (RGU) noted Harris Tweed Hebrides is the largest of three tweed mills currently in operation. RGU added that the company produces 65 per cent of all Harris Tweed manufactured. The business works with a network of 140 skilled weavers, who all work independently on a treadle loom.

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The university said that, under the guidance of its academics, Josie Steed from Gray’s School of Art at RGU, and Karen Cross from the School of Creative and Cultural Business, and KTP associate Beth Wilson, the partnership will “look to embed sustainable business practices and a culture of innovation-led design into Harris Tweed Hebrides”.

Ruth Masson, marketing manager at Harris Tweed Hebrides, said: “We’re looking forward to collaborating with the RGU team on this exciting KTP project. Beth will be based at our mill in the Outer Hebrides, working closely with our production, design, marketing and sales teams on new product development and building on our sustainability credentials. Together we aim to target new markets and keep Harris Tweed Hebrides at the forefront of the textiles industry.”

Josie Steed said: “One of the big challenges which Harris Tweed Hebrides encounters is the seasonality of its product offer. We are going to be exploring opportunities in the growing accessories and interiors markets, and non-seasonal products that could help the mill and weavers to have year-round work.

“By partnering with the university, Harris Tweed Hebrides will gain a raft of technical expertise and resources.”