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Sunspel

British heritage brand Sunspel has grown from its underwear roots to a fully-fledged premium brand.

British heritage brand Sunspel’s success over the past five years – during which time turnover jumped from £1.6m to £4.2m  – is down to an ex-barrister and his business partner.

Nicholas Brooke and Dominic Hazlehurst acquired the brand from its original owners, the Hill family, in 2005. If you are wincing at the departure of the brand from its original owners, think again.

The pair have brought stability to the brand and rejuvenated its fortunes, exploring sales routes into Japan where it is stocked in stores including Beams, Isetan and United Arrows. In the UK, stockists include indies Sarah Coggles, Dover Street Market and Oi Polloi. Sunspel also has a transactional website and in June 2010 it opened a store in Shoreditch, east London.

“We’re not just going to put the label on a host of new products,” says Brooke. “We’re careful about that – it’s a category-driven business so our focus is always on being the best at what we do.”

He describes the brand as a premium cut-and-sew manufacturer, emphasising that many of the garments are still hand-cut. “We think of it as the best you can buy, from a brand that has more than 150 years expertise in making T-shirts.”

The brand’s expertise is anchored to 100% cotton manufacture. It holds to heritage fabric developments like Q14, created in 1958 using traditional lace-making techniques, to produce a lightweight cotton perfect for underwear.

More than half of its product is still made in the Long Eaton factory in Derbyshire, with the rest outsourced to Portugal and Turkey.  

Rooted to its core products, spring 12 sees newness come through in block colours and renewed stripes, including contrast sleeves and pockets. Simplicity and comfort characterise the looks. It’s about Britishness without the bombast, something that has driven the owners to strive for innovation, engaging designer Jonathan Anderson to consult as creative director. This has led to the creation of an archive capsule, using its old graphics on knitwear.

Brooke says a second standalone store is on the cards and while the growth trajectory describes a comforting upward curve, Brooke says it has not always been easy. “In the early days the business was in danger of not making it. The loss of one big customer could have sunk us. Getting through that initial phase was our biggest challenge.”

The brand sells to 20 countries and shows at Pitti Uomo in Florence and the Capsule shows in Paris, New York and Las Vegas. The owners have brought stability to the Sunspel name that should guarantee its future. 

Essentials

60% - Proportion of sales that come from T-shirts. Underwear makes up 30%, polos 8%, other items  2%

130 - Doors through which the brand sells

55 - Items in collection

70/30 - Split between men’s and women’s product

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