Five years after the sale of these companies to the Wool Company in 1965, Mr Seal established Seal (Bingley), a trader of camel hair and mohair. Initially running the office from his home in Bingley with the help of four staff, in 1977 the business finally settled at Ladywell Mills, Bradford, home to company headquarters ever since.
At the time, the business was being jepardised by unreliability of third party warehouses. In an effort to assume direct control of its own warehouse and shipping, the company began processing the fibre at its 175,000sq ft Ladywell Mill site. Starting with camel and cashmere dehairing, the Seal brand then moved onto mohair and alpaca combing.
Mr Seal excelled at selling in Eastern European areas such as East Germany, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic. Having established strong buying links with China, he was the first European to open an office in Beijing following the fall of Chariman Mao. Under Mr Seal's supervision, the company opened two offices in Texas in the 1980's, a main supplier of mohair, as well as establishing a joint venture cashmere dehairing factory in Mongolia.
"My father was ahead of his time, forward thinking and willing to try different things," explained Andrew Seal, group managing director." "He was keen to meet suppliers even in the days when travel was hard."
First and foremost a family business, Raymond's son Andrew joined the comapny in 1976, followed by his younger brother Jeremy in 1982, who is now managing director of the fibre division. Mr Seal's grandsons have also joined the company. Philip Seal is currently training at William Halstead and Joshua Seal is a trainee in the fibre division.
Mr Seal retred in 1995, but remained company chairman until his death. The catalyst for his retirement was the fall of communism, which caused the company's customers in Eastern Europeancountires to disappear. To rebuild turnover, the decision was made to focus on the Far East and Western Europe. "At that time my father realised he had to take a step back and let others concentrate on these areas, which is what we've done ever since.
"He did however maintain a keen interest in the company and was always supportive of new directions and ideas," said Andrew Seal.
The umbrella company SIL Holdings Limited now incorporates fibre, production, yarn and fabric divisions. The core of the business is Seal International Limited, a manufacturer and merchant of cashmere, mohair, alpaca, silk, camel, angora and yak sourced from counttries as diverse as Chia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Peru and Bolivia.
The company portfolio also includes Animal Fibres (Europe) Limited, Cape Wools International Limited, Cashmolane, Fantasy Fibers Limited, Joseph Dawson (Cashmere) Limited, Mr Mohair Limited and Seal South Africa Limited.
The production division encompasses Bridehaugh Limited, Cashmere Combing Company Limited, George Ackroyd (2001) Limited, Mohair Combing, Ladywell Blending Limited, Mohair Spinners (UK) limited, Roberts Dyers and Finishers Limited and Stanley Mills Weavers Limited.
Further downstream, SIL Holdings owns a variety of family businesses with a longstanding textile heritage, including interior textile company Abbotsford 2010 Limited, woven fabric producer Charles Clayton, and worsted fabric weaver John Foster (1819) Limited.
SIL Holdings is also the parent company of cashmere specialist Joshua Ellis, manufacturer of flame retardant furnishings Sea Green Limited and mohair fabric manufacturer William Halstead Limited.
Currently the group employs over 200 people worldwide. "The key lessons my father taught us were to treat everyone with respect, treat suppliers as you would your customers and treat your staff well, look after them through the good times and bad."
Mr Raymond Seal passed away on February 24, 2012. He leaves behind a wife, two sons Andrew and Jeremy, and four grandchildren Philip, Jessica, Joshua and Georgia.
(Page 44 Twist magazine April 2012)