As a heritage British brand Sunspel has been handcrafting garments in Britain for over 160 years, building a global reputation for uncompromising quality, timeless design and luxury fabrics. Thanks to this sense of place and tradition its wardrobe classics have become a part of Britain’s cultural heritage: Sunspel was responsible for some of the world’s earliest T-shirts in the late 19th century and it introduced the boxer short to Britain in 1947. In 2006 came the Riviera polo shirt, tailored for that icon of classic British styling, James Bond.
Since 1937 Sunspel’s production has been based in Long Eaton, Nottingham, and it’s the only brand to manufacture T-shirts at its own factory in Britain. When it works with other factories, the company applies the same know-how. Cashmere and lambswool sweaters are made in Scotland by long established manufacturers using traditional skills and original knitting machines (dating back to the early 1920s) as no other machinery can replicate the quality of the knit. Many of the businesses that it works with are small, family-owned concerns that share in the same beliefs about quality, ethical working practices and environmental responsibility.
By any standards 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and anxiety. As a result, Sunspel has found that consumers have been eschewing fast fashion in favour of the kind of comfort, simplicity and reassurance that its high-quality, timeless designs and luxury fabrics provide. Keeping this historic brand relevant to today’s consumers has been surprisingly easy.
‘We’re fortunate that the principles of our founder were, and still are, contemporary,’ explains creative director David Telfer. ‘The innovation of some of our earliest fabrics – which are still in the collection today – demonstrate his desire to combine the finest fibres with essential garments. In the late 1800s this led to the world’s first T-shirt made in the world’s rarest and finest cotton: Sea Island cotton from the Caribbean. Over the last 100 years we’ve refined the styles and modernised the fits. But our founding ethos of using the finest fibres combined with timeless and understated designs endures and we continue to create products that will outlast changing fashions.’
Sunspel fans include Paul Weller. A factory visit developed into a collaboration, launching in February 2021 with the singer/songwriter hand sketching designs, selecting fabrics and reinterpreting the brand’s 1930s Sun and Clouds logo. The result is a very personal capsule collection.
‘At Sunspel, 2020 has been a period of challenge – but also a year in which we have been able to question what we do and understand how relevant our brand ethos is,’ says David. ‘Customers have wanted to invest in the kind of quality and comfort that are both intrinsic to the brand.’
‘Making clothes with care, from where we source our materials to the people we work with and the quality of everything we do, are not new principles for us – it is simply the way we have always done things.’