Behind the fabric: Sea Island Cotton

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.

sunspel sea island label

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.

sunspel sea island t-shirt sunspel sea island t-shirt

We use Sea Island cotton for our most luxurious underwear, T-Shirts, shirts and knitwear, as well as in our exclusive Ian Fleming Collection, designed in collaboration with the Ian Fleming Estate.