by Neil Summers
In 1860 Thomas Hill opened up his textile factory in Newdigate, Nottingham, a place that was to become the centre of the British lace making industry. Under the name Sunspel 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. Some of the earliest garments they made also included tunics and undershirts that were some of the first t-shirts ever made.
By the start of the twentieth century Sunspel had built a significant export business across the British Empire and was one of the earliest British companies to export to the Far East. Company records even show that a shipment of Sunspel garments due for Hong Kong and China was aboard the N.Y.K Hirano Maru, which was sadly torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat in the Irish Sea in 1918. It was also during this period that Sunspel developed its unique Sea Island cotton fabrics sourced from the West Indies and used in the most luxurious of its products. It was also a particular favourite with Ian Fleming who not only dressed himself in Sea Island cotton but also his literary creation James Bond.
After surviving the great depression the factory relocated to Long Eaton where it remains to this day. Though primarily focusing on their premium line of Sea Island cotton underwear during WWII the brand turned their hand to utility clothing to aid the war effort and continued to lead the way despite suffering a direct hit from the Luftwaffe on their Bruton street offices in London.
Soon after the war John Hill left the gloom of Britain for the glamour of boom time America and was soon inspired by the ideas and innovations of New York. It was here that he saw the opportunity to bring the boxer short to the UK which he did whilst perfecting it’s design along the way. The first Sunspel boxers were cut with a unique back panel to avoid a middle seam and made from Sea Island cotton and designed for comfort. Now recognised as the industry standard for the best boxer shorts out there, in 1985 a pristine pair of white Sunspel boxer shorts appeared in a game-changing advert for Levi’s 501s. The award winning advert saw model Nick Kamen casually stripping down to his boxers in a launderette to a Marvin Gaye soundtrack and changed the underwear buying habits of a nation overnight.
Since then the brand has continued to provide clothing for a wide range of costume designers, actors and musicians. With the name Sunspel being respected as much for their menswear collections and womenswear collections nowadays as it is for their iconic and incredibly comfortable underwear.