Our History

Long Eton England (EST. 1937)

Over 160 years of British craftsmanship and pioneering fabric innovation goes into every Sunspel garment. 
Here is our story.

1860

Formation of the business

Thomas Hill Sunspel founder
Thomas Hill Sunspel founder

Thomas Hill, c.1870.

Thomas Hill opens his hosiery and underwear factory in Newdigate, Nottingham. Thomas Hill was not just an innovator with a lifetime’s knowledge and experience of textile development, he was also a visionary. His aim was to make beautiful, everyday clothing from the world’s finest materials – high quality, durable garments that felt great against the skin. We remain true to this vision today.

1890

The business goes global

The Thomas A. Hill Ltd factory in Nottingham.
The Thomas A. Hill Ltd factory in Nottingham.

The Thomas A. Hill Ltd factory in Nottingham, c.1890

By the turn of the 20th century Thomas A. Hill Ltd is making hosiery and undergarments from the finest cashmere, merino wool, silk and cottons and is supplying customers across the world with luxurious everyday clothing.

1900

Sea Island cotton

a sample box of sea island cotton.
a sample box of sea island cotton.

Sea Island cotton is one of the world’s finest raw materials, requiring specialist skills to grow and spin.

Thomas A. Hill imports Caribbean Sea Island cotton, the world’s rarest and finest cotton.This new fabric establishes the company’s reputation for unparalleled luxury.

1908

The world's first luxury T-shirt

an early example of a Sunspel luxury t-shirt.
an early example of a Sunspel luxury t-shirt.

Lighter and cooler than traditional undershirts, 
Sunspel’s innovative luxury T-Shirts proved popular in hot climates.

The business manufactures some of the world’s earliest luxury T-shirts – simple lightweight tops made from Sea Island cotton for export to the Far East.

1914

The invention of Cellular Cotton

a sample of cellular cotton.
a sample of cellular cotton.
Traditional lace-making machines are used to create a lightweight cotton material with an open knit that allows air to circulate around the body. Q14 remains a unique fabric today.

1935

The company name is changed to Sunspel

document showing the name change from sea island textiles limited to sunspel limited.
document showing the name change from sea island textiles limited to sunspel limited.
Following the collapse in global trade caused by the Great Depression, the business falls back on domestic sales of luxury underwear made from Sea Island cotton. In 1932 the company had even briefly changed its name to ‘Sea Island Cotton Ltd.’ From 1935 the key underwear line is called ‘Sunspel’ as a nod to the ‘sunny spells’ 
of the Caribbean where the cotton is grown, and ‘Sunspel Ltd’ is formally adopted as the name of the business two years later.

1937

The Sunspel factory moves to Long Eaton

the red brick exterior of the sunspel factory
the red brick exterior of the sunspel factory
The Sunspel factory relocates from Nottingham to its current home in nearby Long Eaton, where we still remain today.

1939-1945

Sunspel during the war

bombing damage during the war
Bombing damage during the war.
The Second World War has a dramatic impact on Sunspel. In 1940 its offices in Bruton St, London are destroyed by a direct hit during the Blitz, while production at the Long Eaton factory shifts to utility clothing to assist in the war effort.

1947

The British Boxer Short

a Sunspel poster advert for boxer shorts from the 1940s
a Sunspel poster advert for boxer shorts from the 1940s.
Sunspel introduces the Boxer Short to the UK after John Hill – the great grandson of our founder –takes an American underwear concept discovered on his honeymoon in the US and re-engineers it for exceptional comfort. He improves its design, adding the back panel, flattening its seams and uses the highest quality cotton. The result is a new kind of men’s underwear garment: comfortable, cool and luxuriously soft.

1965

Sunspel’s global reputation is restored

Sunspel advertised at Harrods.
Sunspel advertised at Harrods.
By the mid-1960s Sunspel has rebuilt a global reputation as the quintessential British luxury underwear brand and is present in the world’s most famous department stores.

1985

Nick Kamen at the launderette

Nick Kamen wearing Sunspel boxer shorts in the iconic Levi's advert.
Nick Kamen wearing Sunspel boxer shorts in the iconic Levi's advert.
Levi’s releases its famous ‘Launderette’ TV ad in which model Nick Kamen removes his jeans, leaving on only a pair of white Sunspel boxer shorts. The ad seizes the popular imagination and transforms the boxer from a niche luxury item in the UK to a mainstream cultural

2005

Nicholas Brooke becomes CEO

Current Sunspel CEO Nicholas Brooke.
Current Sunspel CEO Nicholas Brooke.
Nicholas Brooke takes over the reins of the business from Peter Hill.

2006

James Bond wears Sunspel

Sunspel collaborates with costume designer Lindy Hemming to dress Daniel Craig in his first James Bond film, Casino Royale. The Sunspel Riviera Polo Shirt is described by the Financial Times as ‘the easiest way to look like Bond without wearing a tuxedo’.

2010

The first Sunspel retail store

the first Sunspel retail store in Redchurch street, Shoreditch.
the first Sunspel retail store in Redchurch street, Shoreditch.

Redchurch Street, Shoreditch

Redchurch Street, Shoreditch Sunspel opens 
its first standalone store, in East London’s Redchurch St. Over the next ten years, further stores are opened in some of London’s best-known shopping destinations: Old Compton St, Soho; Jermyn St, Piccadilly; Chiltern St, Marylebone; Kensington Park Rd, Notting Hill and Duke of York Square, Chelsea. In 2014 the first international Sunspel store opens in Tokyo – soon to be followed by three more Japanese stores and in 2018, a flagship US store in SoHo, New York.

2012

Sunspel reintroduces womenswear

Creative Director Jonathan Anderson relaunches Sunspel’s archive collection for women, based on our principles of simple, essential garments in beautiful fabrics.

2017

Sunspel celebrates 80 years at Long Eaton

the Sunspel factory in operation in 2017.
the Sunspel factory in operation in 2017.

Sunspel factory in 2017

The technology in the Long Eaton factory may have changed over the decades, but after 80 years the historic building remains the heart of the business. Sunspel continues to be rooted in its local community – and is the only brand to manufacture luxury T-shirts from its own factory in the UK.

Over 160 years since its foundation, Sunspel remains fundamentally the same business created by Thomas Hill. An innovative maker of luxury wardrobe essentials – renowned worldwide for quality but rooted in English craftsmanship and the manufacturing expertise of its local community.