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The best basics - Sunspel’s role in producing the first luxury t-shirt

Sunspel t-shirts hanging from tree

If you tend to buy your t-shirts in bulk, it’s time to reconsider. In the age of fast fashion, it’s easy to pick up a stack of $10 t-shirts and call it a day. 

Chances are, you find yourself replacing those shirts after just a few wears and washes. They shrink, start pilling, scratch at the hems, fade, don’t fit quite right. You are probably also aware of the enormous environmental impact and the all-too-common human rights issues that come along with “fast fashion.” 

Nothing in your wardrobe should be disposable, whether it’s shoes, a suit, underwear, or a basic tee. Trust us when we say that it’s worth it to invest, even in your basics. 

Enter Sunspel

Sunspel produces some of the finest “basics” you can buy, and they’ve been doing it for over 160 years. 

The opposite of fast fashion, this British heritage brand takes the time to produce clothing of lasting quality, done responsibly and sustainably. They have maintained a no-waste luxury concept since the 1940s, continuing to make the highest quality clothes even during wartime rationing. 

It’s a commitment they continue today, using natural, organic, and recyclable materials and updating their processes to reach the highest environmental standards. 

Sunspel had a major part to play in the evolution of the modern-day t-shirt, so you could say they know a thing or two about producing a good one. Here’s a bit of a backstory.

The Origin of the T-Shirt

The t-shirt can be dated back to the late 1800s. Undergarments for men were one-piece button-up jumpsuits. Essentially, they were an old-timey onesie, but they were called “union suits” at the time. Great for winter, but maybe a bit warm in the summer. 

Near the turn of the 20th century, labourers began to cut their union suits in half in an effort to keep cool, creating the equivalent of a t-shirt on top and long johns on the bottom.

As is the case with most styles of clothing, manufacturers caught on and began producing the t-shirt as a separate garment. The first to do so was the Cooper Underwear Company, now known as Jockey.

Sunspel steps it up

The Navy began to issue woolen t-shirts as undergarments to be worn under their uniforms in 1913. It was at this time that Sunspel came in with a better solution.

As major exporters of fine cotton underwear at the time, Sunspel jumped on the t-shirt train and perfected them using cotton, creating a softer, lighter, more breathable version than their woolen counterparts. This was a defining moment in the history of the t-shirt and led to them producing the first luxury t-shirt.

This new cotton shirt became a staple in both the military and the navy, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the term “t-shirt” was officially recorded on paper. It made its debut in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, and later that year it was inducted into Merriam Webster’s dictionary. 

By the late 1920s Sunspel had become known as being one of the best luxury cotton manufacturing companies in the world, with exports throughout the British Empire as well as to China. 

Through the Second World War, however, Sunspel truly went back to basics as a major supplier of undergarments for the British Military. Their premium cotton was woven using a cellular pattern, making it softer and more breathable than the alternatives. These huge military contracts allowed Sunspel to stay in production during and after the war, despite their office being bombed during the Blitz.

A symbol of Bravery and Rebellion 

As veterans began to return home and wear their undershirts with trousers as casual clothing, the t-shirt became synonymous with bravery. Jump forward a couple decades to the 1950s when Marlon Brando and James Dean would solidify the t-shirt as a rebellious fashion icon, just like they did with denim and sneakers. 

It was around this time that Sunspel truly perfected the t-shirt design as we know it today. Once again focused on producing luxury undergarments, they cleaned up the design and fit and fine-tuned the production to create a garment that was just as suitable to wear on its own as it was as an undershirt.

Simple, durable, well fitted, and soft. Since then, only minor tweaks have been made to their design. 

A Cut Above The Rest

Although Sunspel has expanded beyond just underwear since its 1860 origin, they are still committed to producing the very best “basics.” Sunspel has been a family-run business for most of its history, and it maintains its commitment to craftsmanship and community to this day. They take some pretty impressive steps to ensure their t-shirt is the absolute best you can get. 

They know exactly where their cotton comes from, working directly with growers and farmers producing luxury fabrics like Sea Island and Pima cotton. They work with partners who share their commitment to sustainability, ethical working practices, and a level of production excellence that ensures the longest-lasting garment. 

When they produce their t-shirts, they use their Quality 82 jersey knit fabric, which is made using hand-picked, long-staple cotton to ensure the softest, highest quality fibres.

They remove all imperfections from the fibres, then twist them together into a strong and smooth thread that won’t tangle when worn or washed. To finish, they pass the yarn over a flame to remove overhanging ends then double spin the yarn to remove any remaining impurities. You truly can’t find a better t-shirt. 

And if that's not enough to convince you that investing in Sunspel is worth it, maybe Batman will seal the deal. Christian Bale wore Sunspel t-shirts in all three Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Batman in Sunspel

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