Tuesday, 22 March 2011


Earlier this month M&I visited the Sunspel factory in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. Whilst there we met with Nicholas Brooke, the director of the company since he and business partner, Dominic Hazlehurst took over 5 and a half years ago.

Theirs is a tale of investing in a factory that was steeped in history and tradition – so much so that everything financial was still done on a ledger when they took over. We discussed the story of Sunspel, textile manufacturing in the East Midlands, and why Japan is so important to them.
Over the next few days we will be publishing some extracts of our conversation.

Taking Over

“The business started in 1860 and until 1937 the factory was in Russell St in Nottingham. I’ve known Sunspel since I was about 12 or 13, when I bought my first pair of boxer shorts. My wife's aunt is the companion of the previous owner, Peter Hill, who was part of the family who started the business. My wife’s aunt would say that ‘Peter does not want to sell the company to someone who will offshore it.’ I had been chatting to Dominic for a while about starting a business and we thought it would be a great opportunity to reestablish an old English brand.

In this room (a meeting room directly above the factory) there were four ladies who were the accounts department. Everything was done in handwritten ledgers. Then there was a final lady who had a very old computer on her desk, and as the ledgers came round she then typed them into her computer, which was wiped clean at the end of every year.

The biggest challenge has been that everything here has a massive legacy. We were careful not to chuck it all away though, because if you chuck it all away I think you lose what is ultimately the core of the brand... and then you might as well be making cheap t-shirts.

When we took over everything that was being done was very old fashioned... but we had this business with Japan which was all about slim cut coloured t-shirts."

Japan and The Japanese Consumer

“A Japanese guy went into Harrods or Selfridges... bought some underwear... and thought, ‘my, this is an amazing t-shirt. If I could do this in Japan…’ So he contacted Peter Hill to see if he could have some t-shirts made. Peter went there once... but I don't think he realised that we are in some of the best shops that you can get into.

The Japanese really understand the purity and quality of the product. What they love is; the fact that it is made in Britain, the fact that it is long staple Egyptian cotton and the fact that it is made really beautifully and it lasts. I think the UK consumer is getting closer to the way the Japanese consumer's way of thinking.”

Photos of our visit are here. The informative Sunspel blog is here.

Part two of the interview will follow shortly.