Any great company, in any industry, can only come into being courtesy of the pioneering spirit of its original founder. Many of the most famous and successful brands in a wide range of fields, from Louis Vuitton to Ferrari, bear the name of a visionary founder, and the same was once true of Sunspel. The now internationally renowned purveyor of luxury clothing was first established as Thomas Hill Ltd in the Nottingham of 1860.
Thomas Hill himself was enthused about his work and had a conviction about his aims that was perfectly matched to the pioneering fervour of wider Victorian England. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution, with its profound impact on all aspects of public life, and Hill was not to miss the chance to set up a factory in the Newdigate area of the city so that he could make the most durable and comfortable mens underwear.
What the elder Thomas Hill might not have predicted so easily is that through his sons and grandsons, a long-running and successful dynasty would be established, instrumental in ensuring the safe delivery of his company into its present hands. Having helped to transform the way in which underwear was sold across the world and made the most of the premium Lisle brand of cotton to create garments ideal for wearing against the skin, he eventually passed ownership of the company to his son, Thomas Arthur Hill.
This younger Hill was certainly not to disappoint the burgeoning British menswear company’s growing band of admirers, as he set to work with the sustained development of lisle cotton singlets, tunics and undershirts, in addition to a range of quality underwear for women and children. He seized on the opportunity to export Thomas Hill undergarments to the emerging markets of Malaya, India and China, with sophisticated embroidery helping to distinguish the firm’s offerings to Far East customers.
Fast-forward a few generations, and another Hill – Thomas Archibald Montgomerie – was moving the business from its long-time Nottingham base to the Long Eaton premises that it still uses today. Over the years, the various Hills have been integral in affirming the company’s continued commitment to meticulous and innovative heritage clothing design, development and manufacture. John Hill, for example, not only introduced Britain to the woven boxer short, but also refined its design, insisting on their being made from the finest and softest cotton.
Meanwhile, Peter Hill, the grandson of the company founder, was responsible for the invention of the Quality 75 warp knit cotton fabric, as developed with local lace industry expertise and still taking pride of place in today’s range of Sunspel fabrics. Indeed, although no longer in charge of the company, the founding family has certainly left its mark, establishing what has become a go-to brand for generations for people with an interest in the most wearable basic quality clothing.