Thomas Arthur Hill founded Sunspel. He was born in 1822, the 11th of 12 children, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. His father, John Pinkerton Hill, was a hosiery maker in Nottingham and Thomas followed his father into the hosiery and lace trade.
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. His vision to create simple, everyday clothing from beautiful fabrics continues to be the Sunspel philosophy to this day.
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.
Some of the earliest garments made in the Newdigate factory included tunics and undershirts that were some of the first t-shirts ever made.
SUNSPEL BEGINS TO EXPORT WORLDWIDE
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 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.
SUNSPEL SURVIVES 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.
SUNSPEL DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The outbreak of war again changed the company’s direction, driving it temporarily away from luxury products to the production of utility garments for the war effort. Sunspel’s offices in Bruton Street, London, suffered a direct hit during the Blitz.
SUNSPEL INTRODUCES THE BOXER SHORT TO BRITAIN
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 feldlocked flat to the fabric to avoid itchiness. Sunspel boxers continue to be made in the finest fabrics and to this original pattern.
SUNSPEL BOXER SHORTS APPEAR IN FAMOUS LEVI’S 501 ADVERT
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 Levi’s to wash them in a launderette while he sat nonchalantly reading 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 pair worn by Kamen in the ad were Sunspel Boxer Shorts.
“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.” Robert Elms, Style Journalist and Author
Sunspel Develops Riviera polo shirt for James Bond in Casino Royale
In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig wears several Sunspel shirts. Award winning costume designer, Lindy Hemming, explains why:
“I have dressed so many different characters in film and theatre in Sunspel because they are classic, timeless and beautifully made. With Daniel Craig as the new Bond, I thought it would be a perfect collaboration of quality and Britishness to ask Sunspel to create all his t-shirts, polo shirts and underwear. He looks very sexy and happy in their clothing.”Lindy Hemming, award-winning costumier
Sunspel continues to provide clothing for a wide range of costume designers, actors and musicians.
Sunspel opens five London stores
Sunspel opens 5 stores in some of London’s most fashionable locations, Shoreditch, Soho, Marlyebone, Piccadilly, and most recently Notting Hill. Home to Sunspel’s largest store to date, the Notting Hill store holds both our menswear and womenswear collections, as well as a selection of exciting collaborations and carefully curated guest brands.