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What do James Bond, The Rolling Stones and a half-naked man in a laundrette have in common? The answer is the easy-to-wear classics of understated British brand Sunspel

The Sunspel T-shirt, made in England since 1890, crafted in a fine, long staple Pima cotton
The Sunspel T-shirt, made in England since 1890, crafted in a fine, long staple Pima cotton

If you have ever owned a piece by Sunspel, you will know why people become attached to this label. Probably best known for its T-shirts in lightweight Sea Island and long-staple Pima cotton (smooth because of its long fibres), it is also the creator of luxurious, elegant seasonal jerseys, knitwear and underwear for men and women, made with natural materials and designed to fit. Indeed, it is the commitment to fitting pieces to the body that really sets Sunspel apart. As specialists in crossover casual clothing, the design team understands that knitwear can be “tailored” to look smart, rather than sloppy and sporty. Thus, Sunspel effortlessly bridges the tricky smart/casual wardrobe divide, making it well suited to the flexibility demanded by today’s modern, urban lifestyle.

A 1942 Sunspel underwear advertisement from the Long Eaton archive
A 1942 Sunspel underwear advertisement from the Long Eaton archive

A British brand at its core, Sunspel creates easy-to-wear classics that combine the traditional craftsmanship of the past with styling that is effortlessly contemporary. Made to last, these clothes are created with the intention of being much loved, go-to items in a modern wardrobe.

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This longevity is central to the brand’s ethos. As sustainability becomes increasingly important, it is interesting to note that the most sustainable way to dress is to buy clothes which can be worn for years to come. As its skilled Midlands factory workers will attest, Sunspel clothes are made with just this objective in mind.

The Long Eaton factory, the brand headquarters since 1937
The Long Eaton factory, the brand headquarters since 1937

Nicholas Brooke, Sunspel’s CEO, who invested in the company some 15 years ago, describes its appeal: “I got involved in Sunspel because I fell in love with what it made. I already wore the T-shirts and boxers and I knew they looked good, felt great and were designed for longevity from a quality and style perspective, and it was still going strong after 150 years. And it wasn’t in Italy or the US, but on our doorstep in the Midlands.”

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The Sunspel legend has been built over a century and a half and is now embodied in a range of iconic pieces: the classic T-shirt, the British boxer short and the Riviera polo shirt. All have made their mark in popular culture: Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones wears the T-shirts and even has his own customised style, giving him more mobility for his arms so he can drum; the boxer short was introduced to the UK by Sunspel in 1947 and was made famous in a 1980s Levi's ad featuring half-naked model Nick Kamen in a launderette; and the Riviera polo shirt played its part in the rebranding of 007 for a new era when it appeared on Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

These stories, not widely known, are characteristic of Sunspel. Known to its fans as a source of understated style and quality, it is the only British-based T-shirt brand that manages to combine the trusted expertise and authenticity of the past with the design appeal of the present. Despite regular rave reviews from the cognoscenti, Sunspel has remained largely discreet in its presence. This is in part because it doesn’t behave like a typical fashion brand, prone to the vicissitudes of rapidly changing trends. British design and craftsmanship lie at its heart and, another little-known fact, for several years a young man called Jonathan Anderson worked as its creative director. Today, he is better known as the fashion designer JW Anderson. The ethos of the company is, and has always been, based on an understated commitment to quality.

Indeed, Sunspel was founded in Nottingham in 1860, and still manufactures in Long Eaton nearby. It has been making T-shirts here in the same factory since 1937. It is the only British-based T-shirt brand still making in England, and though technology has changed, the commitment to quality is the same as ever.

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