Sunspel and Sea Island cotton have always been inextricably linked. We became world-renowned in the late 1800s for luxury Sea Island cotton underwear, and today we use it for shirts, polos and knitwear. Even the name of the business is a nod to the ‘sunny spells’ of the Caribbean climate where the cotton is grown.
But Sea Island cotton is incredibly rare, and every stage of crafting the garments – from growing to spinning to manufacturing – requires specialist expertise.
What is Sea Island cotton?
Sea Island cotton is derived from the Gossypium barbadense plant and is the finest and rarest form of cotton in the world. Accounting for just 0.0004% of the world’s cotton supply, it is one of the rarest raw materials on the planet.
Although named after a group of islands off the coast of South Carolina, all Sea Island cotton is grown in the West Indies. Sunspel’s Sea Island cotton is sourced from small farms in Jamaica.
Why is Sea Island cotton so soft?
Sea Island cotton’s exceptionally soft feel comes from the length of its fibres, or ‘staples’. The longer the staple of a cotton, the fewer the number of fibre ends in the cotton fabric, and so the softer and silkier it is to the touch. A long fibre also means the fabric is stronger and more durable than short staple cottons.
Extra long staple cotton, which makes up just 2% of the world’s supply, is defined as cotton with fibres longer than 35 millimetres. Sea Island comes into this category, but, with an average staple length of 50mm it has the longest staple of any cotton.