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Q&A with Colin Campbell - Sunray Sportswear

S/S '20

This week Rob's sitting down and chatting with Colin Campbell, the man in charge of Sunray Sportswear, The Hambledon's Japanese, by way of Cornwall, tee shirt of choice. Here's what Colin has to say about jersey, sustainability and life in lockdown.


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Colin Campbell ironing a Sunray tee

So I'm writing these questions during a very peculiar time so first of all how are you ? How have you been coping with incarceration ?

I am sure like many, there has been a lot of reading and reflection and the further realisation that humans really are a stupid species.

I quote “If all the insects were to disappear from the planet, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish” by Jonas Salk.

On a less serious note, I have been trying to grow a shaggy beard only to be told by my wife “shave that off” and with all this time indoors I was hoping that I may never need a barber again, only to be told “you’re going to shave that off”. It was worth a try.

We've been working together for a year now.. happy first anniversary mate ! How's the first 12 months been ?

I have to say that working with The Hambledon has been a real catalyst to what has been a whirlwind year. We have experienced extreme nervousness, trepidation, frustration and 360 degree ‘Exorcist neck turning’ moments trying to think what to do next. To then dancing and jumping around the room with happiness after opening the boxes from our recent delivery from Japan. All those emotions can be experienced in the same day.

The Sunray Sportswear logo
The Sunray Sportswear logo swing tags
The Sunray Sportswear Made in Japanlogo

So did you wake up and think I'm going to start a company making high quality Japanese T Shirts ?

(We are delighted you did by the way)

I guess Sunray has subconsciously evolved over the last 30 years. We moved to Cornwall (I needed to surf more), where we opened a surf shop, and were green to retail. We then fell into distribution and became Volcom’s first ever worldwide distributor, and very quickly had to learn the ropes of distribution. We then became agents for other brands, and now we are designing and producing our own brand, where we are probably the greenest we have ever been.

However, in all of those previous businesses, we were unwittingly learning about clothing, design and production. And although we were very green, the businesses were successful and I put this down to; we always applied common sense, honesty, treated others how you wished to be treated, as well as the quest for perfection. These same simple philosophies can hopefully lead Sunray to become a brand that both stores and customers value. Time will tell.

How did you go about the process ?

Was it a case of I know exactly the garment I want and the machine that makes it, now I just need to go and find the man ?

It became very clear that to produce that high quality and unbranded T Shirt it had to be made in Japan, and if possible, produced using a vintage knitting machine. Finding our esteemed producer was extremely fortuitous and then to discover they had been producing apparel for nearly 100 years was unbelievably lucky. Their long history brings with it a network of contacts, dyers, yarn and jersey makers that are a real "who’s who" of Japanese producers. They also had access to the those elusive knitting machines. Can you imagine as a rookie brand having access to all that knowledge: priceless.

We were in discussion with the producer for over 2 years before being allowed to place our first order and have our product knitted on that very special machine. During this period it was evident that we shared many values and we have slowly forged a great partnership. They offer unbelievable experience and production quality and we bring ideas that can help traditional garments become relevant in our fast fashion world. To say the partnership is blossoming is an understatement, they are an absolute joy to work with and we cannot believe how lucky we are.

For those of you who don’t know about these old machines, please allow me a few sentences to explain why they are seen as the holy grail of jersey and fleece production. This old analogue process can only produce just 1m of fabric per hour (a medium T Shirt needs roughly 1.2m), offering a jersey that has no side seams, no tension and like no other. They lay a long length of cotton yarn down in a very slow and circular motion, without any form of tension and drawing in air to sit between each layer. It is that special.

These machines were replaced in the 50’s by ones that can produce 100’s of metres of fabric per hour, where speed overtook quality as the primary aim. More human progress?

Japanese manufacturerers of Sunray Sportswear
Japanese manufacturerers of Sunray Sportswear
Japanese sewing machinery
Japanese manufacturerers of Sunray Sportswear

Sustainability is a big part of Sunray can you explain a bit about the processes that you've put in place ?

Are Homo Sapiens sustainable, probably not. We therefore do not to use the word sustainable, preferring that we are ‘thoughtful’ and then apply that thoughtfulness to absolutely every aspect of what we do. When we set out to produce Sunray it was very important that it had to be better on every level, including being as planet friendly as possible, as the world did not need another T Shirt brand, and we feel that this level of thought that we have applied does make Sunray unique.

Applying this thoughtfulness to everything we do has been integral to achieving what are possibly world leading planet friendly initiatives for a clothing brand. When you add those initiatives to the production quality and longevity each garment will have, it may well allow the customer to also become thoughtful. We do not wish to become preachy and outline all the minutiae we have implemented, as we prefer to think this level should be already industry standard and not something to be hailed.

When a customer discovers those initiatives, it offers them another layer of satisfaction knowing they have played their part. We also hope it may provoke them. That when buying their next item of clothing, they subconsciously ask questions: ‘how is it made’, ‘where is it made’, ‘any plastic involved’, ‘how long will it last’, etc.

The Hambledon X Runray limited edition collaboration t shirt
New season colours of Sunray t shirts
Sunray sweatshirts

Personally we have loved being part of the evolution of the brand. Can you divulge what's in store for Sunray ?

To continue our obsession.

We have access to the pattern archives of our Japanese producer and as you can imagine it is packed with some real gems, classics that will compliment what we already produce, so maybe a few new styles will be introduced as & when.

We have been sampling using some aged old Japanese dyeing techniques and I can tell you the colours that these techniques produce are stunning and the provenance of who and how they do the dyeing is a story in itself. These will be small and one off collections.

From SP21 onwards we are introducing smaller sizes for women. They will follow the same colours and traditional shapes already being produced, whilst offering a high quality, well made boyfriend fit T Shirt. We know some wonderful women who are helping us with the concept to ensure these new sizes have been thought through and relevant.

I am full of other ideas, but I have to keep reminding myself of “how many products does Red Bull have?”. Enough said.

And finally....... any sign of the washed black yet? It's been a year now!

My mind thinks “Isn’t washed black for ageing Motorhead fans?”, and as I am more Interpol than Motorhead I need to find that washed black that has that certain aloofness that Interpol exhibit and be a colour the hardened rock fan can mosh in. Importantly it has to compliment the Sunray colour palette, so I need to be thoughtful. Like a cheesy new movie commercial would say “coming soon to a store near you”.


We would like to end this Q & A by firstly saying thank you for being allowed to share some of the things that make Sunray unique and secondly, when you design and produce a brand that is good enough to be accepted into a store like The Hambledon, it is a very humbling and uplifting experience. We wish to say a very sincere Thank you to Victoria, Rob, Lucy and all the team for all their help, ideas and support. I can tell you that we will always work hard to stay a favourite.

Shop the latest Sunray collection by hitting the link below.



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