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Harris Tweed: The law protecting the authenticity and quality of a heritage.

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Harris Tweed: The law protecting the authenticity and quality of a heritage.


Harris Tweed[1]


The Tweed Run


On Saturday 29 April 2023 the Tweed Run, a famous annual bike race in London, takes place. The first race was held on 24 January 2009. The Tweed Run is an opportunity for the 750 to 1000 cyclists to bring out their best tweed outfits to conform to the established etiquette. Prizes are awarded for best dressed, best vintage bike, best moustache and best headgear. To give yourself the best chance of success, it is advisable to wear ties, a Harris Tweed coat, an alpaca waistcoat and a hat. The term "overdressed" is not part of the race organisers' vocabulary, so don't be afraid to overdo it. You do need to be comfortable in your clothes though, as the race takes in about 15km of London streets, down Regent Street. It's also a great opportunity to meet up for some social time, with a teatime stop in a park in the middle of the race, which will end with a giant picnic.


Origins of Tweed


Originally, farmers in Ireland and Scotland used tweed to protect themselves from the cold and wet climate of these territories. Rough, thick, felted, but also robust and perfectly insulating, it was a working suit for men. At the beginning of the 19th century, the English nobles appropriated tweed thanks to its properties. It was particularly popular for hunting and fishing. The colours of tweed, inspired by the landscapes of the Outer Hebrides, had the advantage of allowing hunters to blend in with the scenery. From the end of the 19th century, all social classes adopted it and tweed became the sportswear par excellence. However, it did not enter the city until the middle of the 20th century and experienced a major boom thanks to the industrialisation of fabric production. It was also used on the catwalks of haute couture houses such as Chanel and Dior (in 1995), which helped to democratise tweed worldwide.


The Harris Tweed certification mark

Legislative protection of the authenticity of a fabric


Harris Tweed (named after the Hebridean island where tweed is woven) is a Scottish company recognised as one of the world's leading producers of tweed. Founded in 1909, it is the oldest registered British certification mark. It is one of the world's last remaining cottage industries.

The target audience is those who understand that money is not everything and who are looking for quality. It is necessary to know the product to attribute and understand its value.


"The Harris Tweed Association Limited" was established in 1909 in conjunction with the creation of the certification mark. Its purpose is to ensure the quality of the Tweed but also to protect the livelihood of the people of the Outer Hebrides. Unfortunately, as the need for wool increased, traders resorted to importing the means of production, which led to many slip-ups. Some manufacturers labelled their products with the "Harris Tweed" label in an uncontrolled manner, presenting goods that were either of poor quality or did not correspond to the geographical origin of the product (England or Scotland).


In 1993, the Harris Tweed Act established the Harris Tweed Authority to promote and maintain the standards, authenticity and reputation of Harris Tweed products. It is made up of volunteers who are committed to protecting Harris Tweed as a key driver of the local economy.


The Harris Tweed Authority: a quality control body


The Harris Tweed Authority's work consists of checking that the requirements of the Harris Tweed Act are met so that other companies do not produce poor quality tweed that could damage the brand image. The fabric is therefore inspected after manufacture and if it meets the precise criteria, the Harris Tweed Orb stamp and label are affixed; a globe with a Maltese cross, the coat of arms of the Dunmores, whose wife enabled the expansion of Harris Tweed. Accompanied by the words, "Harris Tweed". Since 1911 all Harris Tweed fabrics have been identified by this design.


The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 allows for the certification that any garment bearing the "Harris Tweed orb" symbol was made according to the following definition "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." In other words, "Pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides, and handwoven at home by the inhabitants of the islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra". All of these actions reveal a desire to protect the craftsmanship. The Orb Mark registered in 1908 contributes to the protection of Harris Tweed.


Here in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland we are a long way away from the commercial markets in which Harris Tweed is sold. We do not however let that hinder our efforts to protect our various marks registered throughout the world.”[2]


In 1993, the authority inherited the role of The Harris Tweed Association Limited in combating counterfeiting. The Act states that it is "vital that the integrity, distinctiveness and international reputation of Harris Tweed be maintained". In line with this obligation, the authority took action against Zara and its online retail arm ITX Fashion Limited to stop misusing its name. In 2012, ITX Fashion Limited was selling a product on its website described as Harris Tweed, but not labelled. The dispute was settled out of court. The authority also took action against TK Maxx in 2013 for selling Harris Tweed jackets. The authority was concerned about the labelling and promotion of the fabric, believing it to be a breach of the 1993 Act; and that this use undermined the integrity of the brand. Recognising the scale of the market, the Harris Tweed Authority has had a comprehensive online presence since 2011. 




The certification mark model protecting the creation of Harris Tweed


The certification mark has its origins in the medieval guild system.  In the early 20th century, the need to protect manufacturing methods alongside modern business practices gave rise to certification marks. The British certification mark system is to be distinguished from collective marks and geographical indications.


The Trade Marks Act 1994 provides a framework for this method of certification and defines certification marks in section 50(1) as "a certification mark is a mark indicating that the goods and services in respect of which it is used are certified by the owner of the mark as to origin, materials, method of manufacture of the goods or provision of the services, quality, accuracy or other characteristics". Certification marks are signs used to identify goods or services that meet a set of standards and have been certified by a competent authority. Their main characteristic is that they are not used by the trademark holders but by all authorised users to assure the public of particular characteristics.


Collective marks, on the other hand, are defined in section 49(1) of the Trade Marks Act and make it possible to distinguish the goods or services of the members of the association owning the mark from those of other undertakings. They therefore make it possible to attribute the origin of the product to a member of a particular association; it is a sign of belonging. Geographical indications, on the other hand, are signs used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics linked to that origin.


The Harris Tweed certification mark certifies that various specific conditions are met. It assures the buyer of an origin, a method of weaving, a place, so that he or she can acquire more than just a fabric, the heritage and authenticity of the Outer Hebrides.  We would like to thank James A McLean, Solicitor in Edinburgh, member of the preparatory committee for the HTA Act, for his expert advice.

For any further information, you can contact the Cabinet Larroque.



Article written by Albane KORB

Stagiaire et Etudiante en Master 2  Droit des Affaires

et Fiscalité du Marché de l'Art, Lyon III



[2] Lorna Macaulay, chief executive of The Harris Tweed Authority said.



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