Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggas, 75, owns textile firm the John Haggas Group and in December 2006 bought the Stornoway-based KM Group, which produced about 95% of Harris Tweed.
At the time, industry representatives hailed the move as a new era of stability for the business which had been for sale for four years. Mr Haggas also bought Parkend, a small tweed mill on the outskirts of Stornoway and closed it down
Mr Haggas described the mill in Stornoway as a “shambles, which needed surgery. There were more leaks in the roof than solid bits.”
Investment in machinery and infrastructure soon followed and one of Mr Haggas’s key executives moved to the island to oversee the factory. Then came his master plan to rescue the ailing Harris Tweed industry.
Without consultation with industry experts or weavers, Haggas reduced the stock of 8000 Harris Tweed designs down to just four, refused to sell to any one else but his own clients and started producing exclusively for his own garment production. His product was to be a single, solitary men’s jacket.
It took Mr Haggas from December 2006 to September 2007 to get Harris Tweed Scotland, as the company was to be called, into a position where it was ready for business. Eight marketing agents were employed in Yorkshire to sell the finished products to high-class, independent retailers and his confidence was high. Weavers went into overdrive for the next year to produce the required lengths of tweed to allow the Chinese to create 75, 000 new jackets and ship them back to Haggas ready for sale to a hungry market he had fastidiously researched.
“I went to Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Toronto, London and the colder places in the world because this is an autumn/winter garment,” he said.
Once the material was made and with all and any new work, international orders and requests for tweed that was not for Mr Haggas’ jacket being refused, the weavers were told to stop until the stock was sold and new orders roll in…
The plan proved, as widely predicted, a disastrous strategy with 75,000 of Haggas jackets now stockpiled and no need for him to produce more tweed.
He stated: “The weather was bad over the summer so many retailers had fire sales to get rid of stock, which means they have no profits left for new products.”
With no new work forthcoming, weavers and factory staff were laid off and the Stornoway mill now lies empty.
Haggas promises to be back next year once he’s sold his remaining stock over the winter, this time with a lighter style jacket and more variations in pattern.
He continues to refuse to take custom orders or produce tweed for anyone but his own business.
(BTW they’re actually lovely jackets. Buy one and save a weaver now! http://www.harristweedscotland.com/ )