harris-tweed-the-orb

At Blackhouse, we don’t just love Harris Tweed, we love the history of Harris Tweed. I mean, what’s not to love?!

It has experienced exploitation, consultations, inspections, World Wars, Acts of Parliament, protection in law and global fame. It’s colourful history has not only added to the character and integrity this special cloth emanates today, but it means Harris Tweed can be a genuine and unique display of quality, integrity and true Scottish craftsmanship, forever more.

So, what’s behind the Iconic Orb and why is it important to the Harris Tweed Industry and to us?

Well, by the end of the 19th Century, Harris Tweed was being copied, mass produced and labelled as Harris Tweed using poor in quality material. These ‘shoddy’ cloths, often woven with machine spun yarn from mills as far south as Yorkshire, began to undermine the markets confidence in genuine Harris Tweed.

In 1906 the Harris Tweed Association was formed with the purpose of establishing a trademark to protect the authentic Harris Tweed industry and the livelihoods of the crofters in the Western Isles.  Lengthy consultations concluded with the Harris Tweed Association publishing the following definition for genuine Harris Tweed:

“Harris Tweed means a tweed, hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides.”

The Harris Tweed definition was registered in 1910 and inspectors were employed by the Association to authenticate and stamp, with the registered trademark, all genuine Harris Tweed. The mark consisted of an orb with a Maltese cross on the top of it, with the words Harris Tweed underneath the symbol.

In 1964, following a dispute between textile manufacturers on the Scottish mainland and producers in the Western Isles of Scotland, a Court of Session ruling re-enforced the 1934 definition of Harris Tweed and made it quite clear that for tweed to be genuine Harris Tweed, all production processes must take place in the Western Isles.

An act of parliament named the Harris Tweed Act 1993, established the Harris Tweed Authority as the successor to the Harris Tweed Association, its purpose being:

 “to promote and maintain the authenticity, standard and reputation of Harris Tweed; for preventing the sale as Harris Tweed of material which does not fall within the definition…”

And with this act, the following definition of genuine Harris Tweed became statutory.

“Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Today, every 50 metres of genuine Harris Tweed is checked by an inspector from the Harris Tweed Authority before being stamped, by hand, with the orb symbol.

Only genuine Harris Tweed will carry the orb trademark and this trademark means your cloth is handcrafted in Scotland, to extol all the qualities and genuine virtues, of a truly luxury 21st century fabric.

So, in summary, if your ‘Harris Tweed’ does not display the Orb, then it’s not genuine Harris Tweed! The Orb is the true guardian of the cloth, the industry and for all of us who simply love, Harris Tweed.