I spent part of my weekend watching a fascinating documentary about Harris tweed produced by BBC 4 television. (The documentary is in three hour-long parts that can be viewed on Vimeo. The first part can be seen here; part two is viewable here and here; and part three is here.)
Harris tweed is "cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides" (source: The Harris Tweed Authority). Yes--this cloth is still woven by hand on the islands of Scotland's Outer Hebrides. A single inspector drives around checking that the tweed is being made to standard and places the official seal on the fabric.
Harris tweed comes in over 8000 patterns, with colors that mirror the landscape of Scotland. The tweed is sturdy and warm and holds its shape. It's a classic that, sadly, has fallen on hard times. Though the fashion industry has changed greatly with the rise of cheaply-made, mass produced clothing, the way Harris tweed is made has changed very little. And--arguably--it shouldn't.
The BBC 4 documentary I linked to above is about the people who now make the tweed, and those who are making attempts to rescue the industry. Moments of this documentary made me angry and frustrated, but in the end, tweed aficionados like Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant and fashion designer Deryck Walker gave me hope.