Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Harris Tweed Authority and The Orb Mark

This is the most comprehensive and wide ranging account ever written of the Harris Tweed industry. It makes an important contribution to the social and economic history of the islands and shows the struggle which the people of the Outer Hebrides had, to retain the commercial value of the name, "Harris Tweed". Meticulously researched, intricate and changing circumstances in the history of the industry are made immensly readable.åÊ The book will be of great interest at local, national and world level as Harris Tweed continues to assert it's place on the international stage of modern fashion

Harris Tweed Authority
Harris Tweed Authority certification mark.

The Harris Tweed Authority is an independent statutory public body created by the Harris Tweed Act 1993 replacing the Harris Tweed Association which formed in 1910.

The Harris Tweed Authority is charged with the general duty of furthering the Harris Tweed industry as a means of livelihood for those who live in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
The Harris Tweed Authority is responsible for safeguarding the standard and reputation of Harris Tweed, promoting awareness of the cloth internationally and disseminating information about material falling within the definition of Harris Tweed and articles made from it.

In addition, the Harris Tweed Authority is involved in instigating litigation against counterfeiting as well as the process of inspections and issuing of the Harris Tweed Orb trade mark.

The authority has its seat in the town of Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis.

The Harris Tweed Association was the predecessor of the Harris Tweed Authority and existed from 1910 - 1993 whereupon it was replaced under the terms of the Harris Tweed Act 1993.

At the turn of the 20th century the development of the Harris Tweed industry was growing. Small independent producers, often entrepreneurial general merchants, had largely supplanted the landlord proprietors in both Harris and Lewis as middlemen between weavers and textile wholesalers in the south of the UK.

The role of general merchants as the middlemen in the sale of Harris Tweed was a vital factor in expanding the industry away from the patronage of the land-owning gentry and into the hands of island entrepreneurs. Those merchants who built up a business dealing in tweeds often became independent producers in their own right. They would take orders for Harris Tweed, send the yarn to their chosen weavers, take back the tweeds for finishing, either locally by hand, or later by some mainland finishing company and finally dispatch the tweed to the customer.

In addition to commissioning tweeds, the general merchants also bought tweed from local weavers, using the truck system i.e. by giving credit in their store instead of cash. The merchants then sold the tweed to contacts in the south of the country.

A weaver who earned his livelihood from commercial weaving, as opposed to domestic weaving, had to have a ready supply of yarn and often it was only mill-spun yarn bought in from the mainland of Scotland could give him that supply. The great danger of using machine-spun yarn from a mainland mill was that nobody could guarantee that the yarn which came back had been made from the island wool which had been sent to the mill, or even that the yarn was made from 100% pure virgin wool as was tradition. It was by no means unheard of for unscrupulous spinning mills, particularly in the north of England, to introduce a proportion of re-cycled wool or even cotton "shoddy", to make the new wool go further.

As the demand for Harris Tweed expanded in the first decade of the 20th century, there was also an influx of inexperienced weavers into the industry, frequently men who had had to abandon traditional fishing work due to industry decline.

The result of these two factors saw the increase in poor quality tweed, made by inexperienced weavers from imported, mainland mill-spun yarn and this inferior tweed in turn affected the market for traditional produced Harris Tweed made by experienced weavers from hand-spun island yarn.

It became clear to the local general merchants that strong legal protection of the good name of Harris Tweed by a trade mark and an established standard definition had therefore become essential to the developing industry. This led to groups of merchants in both Lewis and Harris applying to the Board of Trade for a registered trade mark.

On 9 December 1909 a group of these merchants joined together to create The Harris Tweed Association Ltd. a company limited by guarantee with a registered office in London, formed with the intention of protecting the use of the name ‘Harris Tweed’ from imitations, such as the so-called ‘Harris Tweed’ of Henry Lyons or from the inferior standards of production which produced ‘Stornoway Tweed’ and also to establish a Harris Tweed certification mark.

When this trade mark, the Orb, was eventually granted, the Board insisted that it should be granted to all the islands of the Outer Hebrides i.e. to Lewis, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, as well as to Harris, the rationale for this decision being that the tweed was made in exactly the same way in all those islands.

The Harris Tweed Association existed until 1993 when it was replaced by the Harris Tweed Authority under the terms of the Harris Tweed Act of 1993.

Harris Tweed Authority 1993–present

The Harris Tweed Authority was established in 1993, replacing the Harris Tweed Association under the terms of the Harris Tweed Act 1993.

In early 1990 the UK was reviewing its trade mark law with the intention of moving towards the single trade mark system for the whole European Community.

The Harris Tweed Association had already faced difficulties presented by different trade mark laws in different countries leaving the association concerned that the new trade mark laws could move direct control of their Orb Mark to the owners of the vested interests of the Harris Tweed companies. This move of control from an independent association to the commercial producers threatened an erosion of Harris Tweed's craft status and connection to the islands of the Outer Hebrides due to inevitable economic pressures to reduce costs and move production elsewhere.

The association concluded the best option was to transform the association into a public law body, i.e., legal persons governed by public law with statutory functions, one of which would be safeguarding the Orb trade mark.

Taking a lead from two previous Acts of Parliament, the Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and the Sea Fish Industry Authority under the Fisheries Act 1981 both of which had set out an appropriate mechanism for the protection and promotion of a Scottish product, a proposal was submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry.

The proposal included the statutory definition of Harris Tweed outlining the legal remedies it could undertake, an appeals procedure, provision for the dissolution of the Harris Tweed Association Ltd. and for a new Harris Tweed Authority to take over, assuming control of the assets and trademarks of the old association.

A draft bill for a Harris Tweed Act was also drawn up to reflect these proposed changes with the express aim of protecting the intellectual property of Harris Tweed as a local asset to the communities of the Outer Hebrides. By December 1990 the final draft of the bill and been circulated and by April 1991 the eleven members of the Harris Tweed Association unanimously approved the terms subject to such alterations as the Parliament of the United Kingdom might think fit to make to it.

Readings of the bill took place in early 1991 and, after some procedural difficulties with regard to European Law, received the Royal Assent in July 1993.

After 82 years as voluntary guardian of the Harris Tweed industry and Orb trade marks the Harris Tweed Association became the Harris Tweed Authority, a legal statutory body charged under UK law with safeguarding the industry in the years ahead.

The definition of Harris Tweed contained in the Harris Tweed Act 1993 clearly defines Harris Tweed as a tweed which -

"(a) has been handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the outer hebrides, finished in the outer hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the outer hebrides; and"
"(b) possesses such further characteristics as a material is required to possess under regulations from time to time in force under the provisions of schedule 1 to the act of 1938 (or under regulations from time to time in force under any enactment replacing those provisions) for it to qualify for the application to it, and use with respect to it, of a harris tweed trade mark."
The act also set out -

"to make provision for the establishment of a Harris Tweed Authority to promote and maintain the authenticity, standard and reputation of Harris Tweed; for the definition of Harris Tweed; for preventing the sale as Harris Tweed of material which does not fall within the definition; for the Authority to become the successor to The Harris Tweed Association Limited; and for other purposes incidental thereto."
The entire content and provisions of the Act can be found at the Legislation.gov website managed by the United Kingdom's National Archives.

The Orb Mark

The Harris Tweed Orb Mark is the United Kingdom's oldest certification mark and is recognised all over the world.

Certification marks are trademarks with a difference. This ancient method of identifying products has its roots in the medieval guild system. Groups of traders, characterised by profession or location, were recognised through their guild and the reputation that was associated with it, guaranteeing that goods or services meet a defined standard or possess a particular characteristic.

An application was submitted in the name of the Harris Tweed Association Ltd for a standardisation mark, now known as a certification mark, affording much stronger protection that an ordinary trademark would. The trademark was applied for in February 1910 to the Board of Trade as Application No. 319214 under section 62 of the Trade Marks Act 1905 in Class 34 and was finally registered in October 1910.

The registered design consisted of a globe surmounted by a Maltese Cross, studded with 13 jewels and with the words "Harris Tweed" in the first line and, in the second line, the words "Made in Harris", "Made in Lewis" or "Made in Uist", according to the place of manufacture.

Every 58 metre and 75 metre length of Harris Tweed produced by the Harris Tweed mills is inspected by a Harris Tweed Authority inspector and "stamped" with an iron-on transfer of the Orb certification mark as outline above. Typically the mark is applied at the selvedge, one at the corner of each end and one at the half-way point. Customers may request additional marks to be applied at different points also.

The Orb certification mark is also applied to woven labels which are issued to customers when they purchase Harris Tweed.

The Harris Tweed Orb is a registered trademark and must not be used or reproduced without the permission of the Harris Tweed Authority.

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