Sunspel is an authentic English heritage brand founded in 1860. Sunspel make exceptional quality, everyday clothing from beautiful fabrics.
Steam power was about to usher in a period of enormous worldwide change. The textile industry was one of the earliest manufacturing sectors to embrace this change and Thomas Hill found himself at the heart of it.
Thomas Hill was not only one of the great early British industrialists but also a fabric innovator.
1860: SUNSPEL IS ESTABLISHED
Thomas Hill opened his textile factory in Newdigate, Nottingham, which was to become the centre of the British lace making industry. He used his fabric expertise to make lightweight, soft clothing in very fine cotton and pioneered the development of luxury undergarments, as we know them today.
1918-1929: WORLD EXPORT
At the beginning of the 20th Century Sunspel built a significant export business across what was then the British Empire and was one of the earliest British companies to export to the Far East. Company records show that a shipment of Sunspel garments due for Hong Kong and China was aboard the N.Y.K Hirano Maru, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat in the Irish Sea in 1918.
SEA ISLAND COTTON
Sunspel developed it’s unique Sea Island cotton fabrics sourced from the West Indies in the beginning of the 20th century. The long-staple fibre gives the yarn notable strength and smooth, premium softness. It is regarded as one of the world’s rarest and most luxurious cottons, it makes up only 0.0004% of the world’s cotton supplies.
1930S: 'SUNNY' AND 'SPELL'
The Sunspel logo was created in the 1930s, playing with the words 'sunny and 'spell'. The link to the sun came from the company’s reputation for the use of Sea Island yarns across undershirts and underwear by the early 20th Century.
The name Sunspel, refers to the almost magical balance of sun, humidity, and rain in the Sea Islands, that ensured this rare high quality yarn thrived. Coming to define the Sea Island cotton era of Sunspel.
1929-1937: SURVIVING THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The near total collapse of world trade after the financial crash of 1929 forced the company to contract. The factory moved from Nottingham to Long Eaton, where it remains today and the business focused on selling its premium line of Sea Island cotton underwear.
1947: THE BOXER SHORT
In 1947 John Hill left the post-war gloom of Britain for the glamour of boom time America. Influenced by the ideas and innovations of New York he saw the opportunity to bring the boxer short to the UK. John Hill not only brought the boxer short back from America, he also perfected its design.
The first Sunspel boxers were made from Sea Island cotton and designed for comfort. They were cut with a unique back panel (to avoid a middle seam) and all seams were double turned and feld locked flat to the fabric to avoid itchiness. Sunspel boxers continue to be made in the finest fabrics and to this original pattern.
1985: AN ICON IS BORN
It was in 1985, when Levis launched the ad to beat all ads, and the boxer short achieved icon status; featuring a young Nick Kamen whipping off his Levis to stone wash them in a launderette while he stood there in nothing but his white cotton boxers. It was a sensation and the classic white boxer short sealed its position as a more fashionable choice than the old fashioned brief. That one advert changed underwear history forever and the pristine white boxers worn by Kamen in the ad were Sunspel boxers.
Style journalist and author Robert Elms has said;
“Before the boy in the launderette, nobody wore boxers. Almost overnight, men who would once have seen boxer shorts as stuffily old-fashioned were buying boxers in their droves. And ever since, a pair of white cotton Sunspel’s has been the boxer of choice of those in the know.”
2006: DRESSING JAMES BOND
The Sunspel name has been synonymous with the quintessential style of James Bond ever since Daniel Craig wore it in his role as 007 in Casino Royale. Sunspel began a close association with British cinema when approached to develop for Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond. Craig wore the Riviera Polo Shirt in the opening sequence of Casino Royale and it became synonymous with the new modern image of the Bond franchise.
THE RIVIERA POLO SHIRT
The Riviera Polo Shirt is made from warp knit cotton fabric invented in the 1950s by Peter Hill, the grandson of the company’s founder. Unsatisfied with the pique polo shirts that were available at the time, he sought to create a version that would be cool and comfortable to wear in the hot summer sun of the Riviera.
THE ORIGINS OF THE T-SHIRT
The origins of the t-shirt can be traced back to as early as 1913 when the US Navy replaced the standard issue square-necked, shoulder-buttoning shirt, with a woolen, cropped sleeve undershirt. As exporters of cotton underwear throughout the British Empire, Sunspel perfected the art of making these undershirts softer, lighter, more breathable and ultimately more comfortable than ever before. This was a defining moment in the development of the t-shirt as we know it today.
MADE IN ENGLAND
The t-shirt remains Sunspel’s core style. Since 1860, Sunspel have been innovating ways to make t-shirts as soft, light and as comfortable as possible.
Today’s styles are almost identical to the original fifties models – only updated with a unique two-fold jersey fabric, a descendant of the original lisle cotton Sunspel used on some of the earliest t-shirts ever made. Sunspel’s classic crew neck t-shirts are made in England.
This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Sunspel and A.I. PR; in particular, Cyril Crenstil of Sunspel and Naomi Lyon of A.I. PR must be thanked for all of their help in creating this exhibit.
All rights belong to Sunspel Ltd. unless otherwise stated.