BY CHRIS EGAN
For Brexit to work and Britain to become one of the great global exporters once more, the Foreign Office and business need to work hand in glove to protect foreign knock-offs of Great British brands.
Harris Tweed jackets are part of the Balmoral Look and a must-wear for country occasions; a cultural Scottish icon which has affection in many family homes in Britain, the Commonwealth and worldwide. After a crisis a decade ago, Harris Tweed has rebounded and innovated – used globally from hats to shoes from hotel furnishings to covers for iPads and Kindles. Harris Tweed has done well in markets from the United States to India, from South Korea to Japan.
It was in the latter market, Japan – where Harris Tweed achieves £4 Million in annual sales – where, in recent years, counterfeits suddenly flooded the market in a flagrant breach of Harris Tweed trading design.
What could the Harris Tweed industry do?
As it happens, Harris Tweed producers and those involved in selling and marketing Harris Tweed are well organised. The passing of an Act of Parliament in 1993 brought into being the Harris Tweed Authority, a new statutory body replacing the original Harris Tweed Association set up in 1909. The fundamental role of the organisation was to undertake responsibility for promoting and maintaining the authenticity, standard and reputation of the world-famous Harris Tweed cloth. The Authority oversees the production and inspection of the cloth from start to finish and only when satisfied that the article is genuinely deserving of its historic Orb will we brand the cloth with the mark. The mark of the Orb, pressed onto every length of cloth and seen on the traditional label affixed to finished items, guarantees the highest quality tweed, dyed, spun and handwoven by islanders of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in their homes to the laws outlined in the Harris Tweed Act of Parliament.
So, the Harris Tweed Authority is dispatching a Harris Tweed ambassador, working in liaison with the British Foreign Office’s operations in Japan to visit Japanese businesses – not with a view to suing them (there were instances in the past where Harris Tweed labels were misused and action had to be taken) but in an effort to educate those firms not to associate themselves with knock-off fakes. According to a representative of the Harris Tweed Authority in Lewis “the Japanese are extremely honourable when it comes to intellectual property”.
Whether the Harris Tweed Authority’s strategy works or not will be interesting to see. It could become the model for other important British brands to follow. Rather than suing firms that breach trading design, perhaps producers of certain products should centralise around an industry authority then gently point out to firms in breach abroad that they are only discrediting themselves by getting themselves involved with the fakers?
Of course, as trade agreements are signed left, right and centre, it is important that the British Government looks at whether products like Scottish tweed are adequately protected in law on a global basis. What impact might non-authorised products have on the real product’s brand integrity and marketability? Copyright and intellectual property rules differ country to country. How do we know whether we are wearing, buying or selling a genuine country product of cultural value called Harris Tweed? By what methods can we check and assert its authenticity?
Country Squire Magazine was asked by a reader to keep an eye on this particular case. We shall.
It has huge ramifications for UK PLC as it seeks to reposition itself as a great exporter dependent to a great degree on specialised, uniquely British products, which can too easily be damaged by fakes knocked off in their thousands in disreputable factories. Maybe there are protections that can be added to trade agreements as they become negotiated which will ensure the discrediting of firms using Great British fakes.