The story of Supima cotton

Sunspel’s Classic T-Shirt and all of our fine jersey cotton garments are made with Supima cotton. Here’s what makes the fabric special.

What is Supima cotton?

There’s cotton - and then there’s cotton, and the differences between types and grades of cotton are considerable. The quality of cotton is determined by the length of the fibre: the longer the fibre, the higher the quality. So-called extra-long staple cotton has the longest fibres of all.

Pima cotton is a particularly fine extra-long staple cotton that grows in Australia, Israel, Peru and the USA – but it is a generic name with no trademark protections. Supima is the trademark name for the very best American variety of Pima, and represents just 3% of cotton grown in the USA, and less than 1% of the cotton grown in the world.

To gain the Supima name, the cotton must pass a stringent quality review process. Produced from the Gossypium barbadense cotton plant bulb, Supima has fibres averaging 1.5 inches in length, nearly twice as long as other types of cotton. 

Supima’s particular qualities of strength, softness and colour retention make it a perfect material for clothing that not only looks good but washes and wears well too; a Supima garment keeps its appearance and shape.

a supima cotton bud 

The Gossypium barbadense plant; Early days of Supima cotton in Arizona (Photo: Supima)

 the early days of supima

Origins of Supima cotton

Pima acquired its name in 1910, honouring the Native American Pima people who had cultivated the crop as part of a United States Department of Agriculture programme to develop the finest cottons in the world.

Supima cotton is the product of that programme, and also the name of the not-for-profit association set up in 1954 to promote and protect it. And while Pima cotton worldwide can be blended with other sometimes inferior cottons, Supima is guaranteed 100% American-grown, top-quality Pima.

Traditional farming, 21st century technology

Supima starts life on one of the 500 or so family-owned US farms that specialise in Pima cotton production. Most are in California’s San Joaquin Valley, with the remainder in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. These states all have the hot, dry desert climates that American Pima needs, and which offer a long growing period. 

Many of the farms that produce Supima cotton have been in the hands of the same families for several generations. While today’s farmers are proud of their farming history and heritage, they are also committed to innovation. 

Supima farms use some of the most technologically advanced agricultural processes in the world, including state-of-the-art soil monitors and GPS navigated tractors – all designed to grow the best quality cotton with as little impact on the environment as possible.


Supima cotton – sustainable, transparent and traceable

Supima cotton is strictly regulated to maintain ethical and environmental farming standards, focusing particularly on water efficiency and soil health.

Supima cotton fields are laser levelled to make the best use of water, with responsible irrigation systems designed to restore soil moisture, promote soil health, and encourage wildlife. All Supima cotton waste products are fully compostable, to minimise waste.

Supima cotton’s journey is closely monitored and can be forensically traced at every stage from fibre and yarn to the finished product.  When you buy a Sunspel Supima garment, such as a Classic T-Shirt or a pair of boxer shorts, you know that it is made from 100% Supima cotton.

Sunspel, Supima and Q82 jersey

Q82 - the Q stands for Quality – has been part of the Sunspel story for decades. It is a uniquely soft extra-fine cotton jersey, developed at our Long Eaton factory in 1982. Today, our Q82 cotton jersey is even luxurious because we use Supima, combined with production methods that offer the level of care and craft required to bring out the special qualities of this unique fabric.

To make our Q82 cotton jersey, extra long staple fibres are twisted together to make a strong two-fold yarn. This is passed over a flame to remove any overhanging threads, and double spun, producing a yarn that is incredibly smooth, fine and long-lasting. It is knitted into jersey fabric, on a circular machine that locks the yarns together and prevents twisting when washed, meaning that the garment retains its shape after many wears.

The fabric is then rope-dyed on rollers and laid by hand, so it can be examined by an expert. Once pulled from the roll, the fabric is allowed to rest; this ensures that each final manufactured garment holds its shape. All this work and care goes into a Sunspel T-shirt before it arrives at our English factory to be cut, sewn and finished by hand by our expert craftspeople.