Transforming Communities

Andrew Barrie 14th November 2019
Throughout the CommunityLab experience you will notice some lovely images of sun, sea and sand. These are actually of the same place. Not the Indian Ocean or Caribbean, but Luskentyre Bay, Harris, Scotland. A remote place right on the wester-most fringe of Europe.  Isolated, beautiful, but harsh.

This island has a special place in our hearts. It is the setting for a remarkable story that captures everything that we want to encourage and help. It starts with a weaver. Donald John Mackay. His croft overlooks Luskentyre Bay.

You will know of Harris Tweed as a luxury brand. However, a few years ago it was on its knees. The industry was fragmented with a few dozen passionate weavers doing their own thing. Getting business where they could.

In 2003 Nike got in touch via email to say that they were thinking of making their own design of Harris Tweed, with a minimum amount of 25 metres being required. 

‘They contacted us with a print-out of the design they had in mind to see if I could do anything with it, which I could. They then asked for samples of the yarn I would be using, along with six samples of our best-selling tweeds to be sent to their company headquarters in Oregon. As it turned out, Nike told us they intended to use the tweed to revolutionise the design of the Terminator series of women’s basketball trainers, with five ten-metre samples to be sent to different locations in the US and China.’

Nike’s demand for the fabric increased and soon Donald John and Maureen were sending five 40 metre samples to the company every single month between August and January. Then, in early March 2004, Maureen received an email from Nike asking for 950 metres to completed and sent away in as little as eight weeks. Faced with the sheer size of the order, the couple responded that they would be able to meet Nike’s demands, provided that they were able to take on another employee to share in the workload.

Nike’s response was to apologise for a mistake in the order’s amount: they in fact wanted 9,500 metres, to be completed in the same time frame!

‘We knew that it would be impossible for us to be able to produce such a huge quantity of fabric in such a small space of time. The next day I contacted the Shawbost mill with the details of the order, and at first they didn’t take me seriously. We could hardly believe it ourselves, but I managed to contact Derek Murray who was away in Leeds at the time, and convinced him to help us take on the order, which would escalate to nearly 20,000 metres by the end of the contract.’

‘That was a huge turning point for the industry, not so much in the value of the order, but in terms of the publicity that the deal attracted to Harris Tweed.’

As a result of being included in the deal with Nike, the Shawbost Mill, which had been running on a skeleton crew of employees working a three-day week, instantly went into twenty-four hour production, creating fulltime work for fifty weavers and countless other workers assisting in the dyeing and preparation of the wool.

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Tags #inspiration #communitybuilders #collaboration #community #nike #harris #tweed

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