A Local Business With an International Outlook
‘Modern everyday luxury’ is the ethos of Sunspel, the Nottingham-based manufacturer of luxury cotton clothes. The company was founded by Thomas A. Hill in 1860, a hugely successful textile entrepreneur. His aim was to create simple luxury clothes using the best quality materials he could source. This approach rendered him a pioneer in British craftsmanship.
History and heritage are two important concepts which Sunspel pride themselves on. Similar to Lane, Sunspel was founded in Nottingham, having set up its first factory in the Newdigate area of Nottingham city centre. The Newdigate area was once an interesting part of the city which housed many factories, some of which were particularly involved in the local lace industry. For many years the area lay derelict and now this historical manufacturing part of the city is steadily being replaced by student flats, migrant restaurants and food shops and designers’ and artists’ studios such as our home, Primary studios.
Sunspel later moved to Long Eaton in Nottinghamshire, where the factory had a 500-strong workforce. Each worker was highly skilled in hand cutting and stitching premium Lisle cotton. To this day, local workers are assembling clothes here in Nottinghamshire. Their commitment to premium craftsmanship has ensured their survival and success in the face of competition from cheaper labour sources.
In 1937, Sunspel’s underwear brand was one of the most successful, made from Sea Island cotton. This was revolutionary, as the majority of underwear before Sunspel was made from traditional British wool, which was probably a bit too warm! The 1947 Sunspel boxer short had achieved cult status by 1985, when it was worn by Nick Kamen in the iconic Levi’s laundrette advert, in which he strips down to his white cotton boxers. While Fox Brothers supplied the British gentleman’s suit fabric, Sunspel completed the outfit with a pair of handcrafted, luxury briefs. Sunspel created clothes for adventures; for rowers and explorers heading out on their Great British expeditions, and also supplied underwear to the RAF.
In 2005, Sunspel was bought by Nicholas Brooke and Dominic Hazlehurst, who both attested that they want to preserve its traditional techniques and update them with a modern sensibility. They appointed British fashion designer J.W. Anderson as their creative director, ensuring its continual progression in today’s fashion market. Their products are sold by luxury British retailers such as Flannels, Harrods, Matches and Selfridges.
Sunspel look to their design archives for inspiration and information, an established trend for British manufacturers and brands looking to relaunch or reposition themselves. The Sunspel brand is based on its heritage and markets itself around its established longevity as a successful and high-quality British manufacturer. There is an informed assumption that Sunspel will never scrimp on quality for the sake of low costs, principles which have been set in stone since its early foundation. Sunspel’s values are integral to the success of their brand – retaining old and traditional techniques but using them creatively and innovatively, combining craft and tradition with technology and modernity.
This approach to business and renewed thinking about how to deal with manufacturing is something that UK businesses need to consider in an ever competitive global market. Sunspel not only make great products, they’ve developed a great brand.
Check out our Pinterest board ‘Lane’s Best of British brands’ for images of more inspiring British companies and their products.