WHILE the rest of us try to decide on a winter coat — or whether we can just get away with the old one, one more time — staff at the mill in Shawbost have been busy completing orders for samples of fabric from designers thinking about using tweed in their collections for the winter season 2015/16.
Some of these are sample orders secured during Premiere Vision, a huge global trade show for the fashion and textiles industry held every year in Paris. A team from Harris Tweed Hebrides attended the show in September, just as they have done every year since the Shawbost mill reopened for business seven years ago, and brought home an order book bursting with requests for samples.
It is here, alongside thousands of others in the vast international Exhibition Centre near Charles de Gaulle airport, that Harris Tweed Hebrides set out their stall — literally and metaphorically — and take inquiries from potential customers.
The trade show marks the beginning of the order year and, without divulging the exact number of sample orders taken, Harris Tweed Hebrides Brand Development Director Margaret Ann Macleod revealed it had been “one of our best years, for sure, at PV”.
“We came away with great excitement for the coming season and huge interest in our cloth and new designs,” she said. “There is continued interest globally in Harris Tweed.”
Held across three days in the middle of September (16th to 18th this year), Premiere Vision gives company representatives the chance to meet with the international agents who sell Harris Tweed as well as customers new and old. As the show is not open to the public, these people may be buyers, designers or business owners – all operating in the apparel side of the textiles industry.
Regardless of who the customer is, though, the question they ask is always the same. “What’s new?”
The days of customers writing large orders at trade shows are long gone. However, these shows are absolutely critical in terms of receiving orders for the following season and preparing samples after the show is a vital part of that process.
At PV, representatives from Harris Tweed Hebrides will sit down at a table and flick through samples of fabric with interested buyers. If the potential client wants to take it further, they will place an order for a fabric swatch or a sample length to be produced at the mill after the show, then sent out to them.
These samples will then be reviewed in design offices across the world as buyers make their decisions on what fabrics to include in their next winter collection. The main orders typically arrive at the mill between January and March.
Margaret Ann said: “PV is about exhibiting, about attracting interest in our company and about starting the sampling process for the season. It’s the first stage of confirming potential orders, by sitting either side of a table, going through our 500 or so patterns.”
While some potential customers will ask to see every fabric in the collection, others will have a narrower interest and some will even place an order for samples with a bespoke twist.
Around 30 new designs (a selection of which are pictured above) were premiered at the show this year, with the general response being “very positive” and lots of comments about the distinctive depth of colour in the Harris Tweed Hebrides fabrics.
Margaret Ann stressed: “Presenting variety in cloth designs and colourways is really important for keeping interest in Harris Tweed. We have more than 500 designs in our collection. But if you don’t show variety, there’s no freshness and our buyers are always looking for ‘what’s new’.
“They all come to the trade show to see newness.”
Other representatives from the Harris Tweed Hebrides Shawbost Mill joined Margaret Ann at PV, including Chief Executive Ian Angus Mackenzie, Sales Manager Roddy Martin and Gwen Crossley, from the Pattern Room.
Margaret Ann said: “PV is really where we get the opportunity to meet international customers, existing customers and new customers. Because we’re located in the Hebrides and so far away from many of our customers, this type of event gives us the opportunity to meet those customers face to face.
“Our key agents will come to the show as well. There were agents there from Germany, Japan, Korea, Canada and the US, as well as our London-based agent. It’s a really important opportunity for the family of Harris Tweed Hebrides to come together.
“It’s also a great chance for us to meet other Scottish mills and network with peers in the Scottish industry.”
It may sound glamorous but the reality of Premiere Vision is hard graft. The importance of it, though, cannot be overstated.
“You don’t go to PV...?” said Margaret Ann. “You don’t generate interest. It’s important in terms of profile, attracting new customers and, of course, maintaining relationships with existing customers.”