Sea Island and Sunspel | The Story is in the Seams

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That’s the percentage of cotton in the world that can be classified as “Sea Island Cotton,” which raises the immediate question: how does one material become so scarce? The answer involves weevils, Queen Victoria, and the Caribbean climate, but most of all it involves a textile that is far superior to all of its cotton cousins.

Sea Island Cotton is harvested from The Gossypium Barbadense plant, which hails from South America, and had been grown in the West Indies since the 15th century. Yet, it wasn’t until 1786 when the plant arrived in the sea islands of South Carolina that it really began to infiltrate the U.S. and European markets. In comparison to other cottons, Sea Island is just plain better. It’s stronger, silkier, softer, and therefore extremely desirable.

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During the 1800’s the British aristocracy became infatuated with this high-quality cotton, only to witness the decimation of the entire Sea Island supply at the hands of the East Coast weevil infestation roughly a century later. Fortunately, some seeds did survive this blight and thanks to the Caribbean’s perfect balance of sun, humidity, and rain this plant is flourishing once again, although Sea Island cotton is certainly no less rare than it was back in the colonial days.

The number of farmers, weavers, and seamstresses that are still experienced enough to work with this textile is ever shrinking, which only adds to Sea Island’s exclusivity. For example, Sunspel, which is one of the leading purveyors of Sea Island Cotton garments (and a Paul+Williams client), only works with a small team of Swiss weavers, and a single seamstress in their English factory to craft these items. Their price tags are expectedly eye-popping, but you’ll be able to tell the difference immediately. Just don’t blame us for making all your inferior tees obsolete.


Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH


Comments on “Sea Island and Sunspel | The Story is in the Seams

    Andrea on April 29, 2014 12:05 AM:

    I don’t think I’ve ever met Sea Island cotton in person before, but I have a vivid memory of handling Egyptian pima for the first time. You didn’t even want to call it “cotton,” it was that distinctive (and so much better.)

    Andrew on April 29, 2014 8:51 AM:

    I didn’t believe it until I picked up a few of my own pieces.

    bob corrigan on April 29, 2014 11:06 AM:

    Love the article! A Minor Nit: when writing the scientific name of a species, the first word is capitalized and the second is not, and both should be italicized. See

    Leah on April 29, 2014 12:25 PM:

    I’m sure it’s a fantastic cotton, but I just wish Sunspel’s womens clothes would fit women instead of girls. They’re too short and too narrow, and I’m only a size 10!

    Emma Howard on April 29, 2014 5:09 PM:

    Fascinating information!

    Ray Hull on April 29, 2014 6:34 PM:

    This calls to mind my wonderment at the proliferation of Merino wool everything/everywhere. Have they no standards? What are the major cotton groups (e.g Egyptian, Sea Island, etc.)?

    tim on April 29, 2014 7:42 PM:

    Great post

    Roberto Real on April 30, 2014 12:10 AM:

    I have been wearing dressing shirts since 1978 made of sea island cotton poplin…… There is nothing better.

    tim on April 30, 2014 8:03 PM:

    fat chance I’m pay 250 for a white tee though!

    miqcie on May 1, 2014 1:32 PM:

    What’s the difference between the different “brands” of high-end cotton? I know that Supima is a California cotton. And then I’ve heard of Riva cotton from Egypt that Isaia uses in their shirting.

Comments are closed.