Wool was Bradford’s currency when Harry Dawson branched out on his own as a merchant in 1888.

The business he started trading in fine merino wool brought from Australia in sailing clippers has just marked 125 years of continuous trading and has stayed in the family.

Dawson handles around five per cent of the world’s wool of many types and grades, and is headed by Harry’s great-grandson Jo Dawson.

Writing in a trade journal, Jo said: “I grew up immersed in the world of wool and from a very young age became fascinated by the business my family created. I’m proud to be the latest in a line of Dawsons to commit to wool and relish every new challenge the business offers.

“Wool’s major asset is that it is natural, renewable and biodegradable. No man-made fibre can ever come close to those characteristics, and I think we should use these positive points to really drive home to consumers the benefits of choosing wool.

“The wool industry has experienced sustained competition from man-made fibres... but the tide is, however, turning in terms of what consumers want and more are coming back to wool for their carpets, clothing and home furnishings.”

This modern-day evangelist for wool has played an active role in the Campaign for Wool to boost wool consumption, whose patron and inspiration is the Prince of Wales, who came to Bradford to launch the initiative in 2010.

He is full of praise for Prince Charles’s direct involvement in the Campaign for Wool.

Jo said: “The support Prince Charles gives the campaign is absolutely priceless. He cares about the wool industry and understands how everyone working within it, from farmer to manufacturer to retailer, is affected by changes in price and conditions.

“Prince Charles has given far more time to this project than to many other organisations with which he’s involved, and that has been a major catalyst in bringing people together, putting aside competition and focusing on promoting wool around the world.”

Jo believes that a failure to work together will be the main threat to the renewed success of the sector, rather than competition from outside From its Essex Street base, where it moved from Little Germany in 1988, and stores wool mainly for the UK and European markets, Dawson works with about 15 companies to prepare raw wool for a range of manufacturers and processors.

The worldwide business handles more than £100 million-worth of wool each year and has a UK turnover of around £30 million. Exports account for around 75 per cent of the UK operations.

H Dawson Wool’s operations span the globe with bases in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, India and China – where it has had a presence since 1991 in a country that now consumes 40 per cent of the world’s wool.

Each operation is a profit centre, and Jo says H Dawson is not a group, but a network. Each generation of Dawsons has bought out the business from their predecessors, with the latest changeover coming in 2006.

In many ways Harry Dawson would still recognise the business. The fibre hasn’t changed and Jo is proud that its skilled staff still appraise the quality of wools visually “We ensure that our team uses this historic capability and allies it with modern techniques,” he said.

One of the latest developments was the reopening of Dawson’s offices in Australia last year after an absence of six years.

Jo said: “We were delighted to launch a significantly enlarged H Dawson team in Australia to further develop our presence in the merino wool market and ensure we supply significant volumes of wool from the largest wool-producing nation in the world. The new team has a proven track record in supplying customers throughout the world.

“After the introduction of our South Africa team in 2012 and the continuing successful efforts of our operations in New Zealand, China, Italy, India, Ireland and the UK, this further operation shows that we continue to develop our reputation as a leading voice in the global wool industry.”

H Dawson buys wool from 35 countries and sells to customers in more than 70, including spinners and manufacturers using wool for end uses including clothing, carpets. bedding, furnishings and tennis ball covers.

Jo views wool not as a lifestyle choice but rather a healthy way of life. The company’s Wool Room retail operation sells wool bedding and accessories through four stores, including one in Harrogate, and online.

He says it is a proven scientific fact that sleeping in wool bedding produces 25 per cent more deep sleep than other fibres by reducing the moisture on the skin which causes restless nights.

“Wool soaks up 30 per cent of its weight in moisture before becoming wet, ensuring that you wake up refreshed after a great night’s sleep. We’re not just selling bedding, we’re selling sleep,” he said.

H Dawson is switched onto to modern techniques and uses social media sites extensively, including Facebook and Twitter, to reach trade customers and consumers, and Jo sees them as key marketing tools.

The importance of IT to the business is reflected in the recent appointment of Andrew Hendry as global IT director. He has joined from an IT rather than a textile background.

Looking ahead, Jo says having a Chinese operation is vital, but Dawson has not become too ‘China centric’.

Jo said: “If you’re in wool you have to be in China, but we’ve kept it in proportion. China is probably the largest market we deal with and is the biggest single destination for wool. China has an increasing middle class which is growing by more than the entire UK population every year, and they want more assurances about their products.

“The Chinese consumer wants to know about the authenticity of their products and that’s why they’re importing from sources and brands they can trust.”

His confidence is also boosted because the younger generation is getting switched onto wool – which is regarded as ‘cool’ by many consumers.

“There are real opportunities for this industry which is shedding its old-fashioned image but has not been good at marketing its products in the past. In a climate where people need to impress to get a job, the suit is back in vogue and nothing looks better than a wool suit, and tailors love the fabric.

“This is a great business to be in. We have young people working for us who travel the world, managing foreign currencies and transacting with many companies in sometimes volatile markets, buying and selling a premium product. We are raw material suppliers to leading fashion brands and high street names. It’s challenging and exciting,” he said.

Jo Dawson spends around four months a year travelling the world meeting colleagues and customers. As a frugal Yorkshireman he flies economy class.

He said Dawson was working on several – so far confidential – projects to add value to the business, mainly involving intellectual property issues.

He is confident about the future and believes wool’s revival will be long-term.

“We’re selling a premium. renewable, biodegradable product and there’s’s not many of them round. It’s a good product with many end uses – even as a fertiliser – and exactly meets today’s sustainable agenda while the competition are mainly oil-based or fibres from non-renewable feedstock.

“Those producers would give their right arm to replicate the qualities of wool – so we’re at an advantage. But the story needs telling clearly and powerfully without complicating it with too many messages,” Jo said.