The Gossypium Barbadense plant is native to South America and has been domesticated for many thousands of years, and has been grown in the West Indies since the 15th century. In 1786 planting began on the sea islands of South Carolina and the results were of the highest quality, worth ten times as much as cotton grown inland.
Expensive and difficult to cultivate, Sea Island cotton soon became prized by British aristocracy: Queen Victoria’s handkerchiefs were made from it. During the early 20th century Sea Island cotton was wiped out by a widespread infestation of weevil, which affected the entire cotton belt from Mexico to the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.
After brave efforts to preserve this strain of rare cotton through careful cultivation of seeds that survived the weevil infestation, Sea Island cotton has in recent times experienced a resurgence. Today it is grown and hand-picked by a few dedicated experts on small islands in the Caribbean, where the optimum amount of sunshine, rain and humidity allows the unique genus of plant to bloom.
It is still coveted as one of the world’s most luxurious materials. The rarest type of cotton, it makes up only 0.0004% of the world’s cotton supplies.
Sea Island’s unique combination of qualities explain why it is so highly prized: extra long staple length, fine uniform texture, great tensile strength, silky lustre and an extraordinarily soft feel. These qualities allow it to be woven to the very highest yarn count, unlike other cotton types.
There are few weavers in the world capable of handling this type of cotton. Sunspel is working with expert spinners in Switzerland who twist the exceptionally delicate fibres into the finest of threads, which are then woven into a luxurious fabric.
Consisting of a brief, a two button short, a classic vest and a crew neck t-shirt, every detail of the shape and fit of our Sea Island range has been scrutinised, and we have made changes that are only possible because we are using this exceptional fabric. The seams have been stripped back to the bare minimum for the briefs, allowing maximum comfort but still maintaining support. The finishing details have been refined, using the highest quality elastic for the waistband and the strongest stitching threads to maintain quality over time. We have removed all branding, apart from a subtle inside label with a Sunspel crest of authenticity.
Sunspel Sea Island garments are made by hand by one expert seamstress in our Long Eaton factory in England, in very limited numbers. Each garment is virtually a piece of couture – the closest a man can get to the refined luxury of artisan craftsmanship for his everyday wear.
Sunspel Sea island cotton garments are sold in handmade boxes, inspired by museum archive boxes and constructed in England. Every aspect of these products has been refined and expertly crafted. There is quite simply nothing else like them.
The full range is now available online at sunspel.com and in our Old Compton Street store in London. The collection is also available in Harrods of Knightsbridge.
Watch Now: ‘A day in the life of a British factory’ a film showing our factory at work.