London, Aug 30 : Harris Tweed weavers are facing being wiped out of the market because of the "Primark prices" that are being paid for Scotland's oldest cloths.
The remaining 130 weavers of the ancient Clo Mhor, meaning 'big cloth' in Gaelic, depend on the proceeds that they get from sale of the cloth, and they have to survive on an average of just 130 pounds a week.
Harris Tweed is fast dwindling despite the fact that it has a celebrity following that includes Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, and top designers Vivienne Westwood, Valentino and Donna Karan have featured it in the winter collections.
Aneas Maclean, chairman of the Harris Tweed Weavers' Association, said that the cottage industry, where weavers still produce the cloth in their own homes, was on the verge of extinction.
"We all knew this year would be hard and traumatic. If we have another year like this, you'll not have a Harris Tweed industry. There will be no weavers," Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
"They are on the breadline. If the situation is not as serious as it is you would not have the minister coming here to solve the problem.
"I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a full-time weaver to earn 25,000 pounds-a-year. But the tweed is selling at Primark prices. It is being sold at 16 pounds-a-metre, while it needs to be more like 25 pounds a metre," he said.
With the cloth not being in demand, weavers are paid around 130 pounds for each 50m beam, or barely 2.50 pounds a metre, but many say they have little or no work.
The situation became so bad that in June the owner of the mill, which produced 95 per cent of all Harris Tweed, ceased production for the rest of the year.
The weaving of more cloth has been suspended by mill owner Brian Haggas, as there are thousands of tweed jackets already made at the former Kenneth Mackenzie mill in Stornoway.
The stopping of the production of the cloth has raised doubts about the future of his remaining 40 staff and the 130 weavers who depend on the mill on Lewis for their livelihood.
Less than 30 years ago there were between 1,600 and 2,000 full and part-time weavers in the islands but a collapse in the American market saw many leave the industry.
About one million metres of Harris Tweed is produced annually now, down from seven million a decade ago.
Jim Mather, the Scottish enterprise minister, claimed the industry has a bright future, but refused to promise a rescue package.
"There has been significant investment by Harris Tweed companies in recent years. This points to an industry which already knows it must do all it can to compete in the global textiles market," he said.