Don't Sweat It - We've Got you Covered

Written by Robert Owen Kay
Founder and designer
Picture of Robert Owen Kay


At Robert Owen, we think your skin is amazing, and we make clothes to match. Call them base layers, undershirts or plain old underwear it's the layer that that sits next to your skin. We consider it to be the most important layer. We believe the right fabric choice and the right design are more important than price. We aim for maximum comfort.

When you are going about your day you want clothes that work with your body to fit whatever you are doing, be that working in an office or skiing in the Rockies. Our primary concern is how the fabric interfaces with your skin, and how the garment is cut to fit on your body. Our goal is to make clothes that you forget about when you wear them (and you miss when you don't have on). In this, we specialise.

Our first focus has been on solving men's sweat problems. This is where our business started. I was looking for something to wear under my work shirt to absorb sweat. I'm a (kind of) fit guy; I'm in OK shape, but for some reason, I get hot in the morning. Like really hot. Five minutes after I'm out of the shower I'm sweating already. By 11 in the morning, after commuting to work and getting stuck into my day, I'd be stuck with sweat patches under my arms. Not the end of the world for sure but it was a little distracting, to say the least. I needed something breathable I could wear under my shirt to absorb it before it hit my outer layer.

The problem was there simply wasn't anything specifically made for this purpose. I didn't want to wear anything bulky. I didn't want to wear a synthetic material or polyester type sports top because it would a) make me hot, b) smell (what is it about synthetic sports tops?) and c) feel nasty on my skin in a work context. Looking around for a solution I noticed there were one or two small brands producing modal and bamboo viscose undershirts in the USA, but nothing in the UK. Even these USA brands weren't quite right for what I wanted. I tried them out, but they either didn't get the neck right (I like to wear my shirts open) or the fabric felt too thin. That was it; I decided to make my own. My aim was to make the best undershirt for men. It had to be breathable, lightweight, absorbent, hidden, super comfortable and feel just right. No challenge then. But my mind was set - I was about to design the best undershirt the world had ever seen!

Working with a seamstress, I tested countless iterations of our original design. Tweaking the positioning of each seam to make it just so. I wanted mine to be a fitted undershirt. I'm sure I drove her crazy with my insistence on making minor adjustments, an inch to the left here or a touch more space there. We even came up with a unique double panel arrangement to put more sweat absorbing fabric under the arm, where you need it most. And, out of these two panels I had her make a little pocket between the two panels where a sweat pad (dress shield, or sweat guard) could be fitted if required. This discrete little pocket means you can add a sweat guard if you need it and it will stay in place. It also means you can take it out and throw it away (no washing complications) and you have the choice of whether to fit it or not. If you don't need extra sweat absorption you don't use a sweat pad; the choice is yours. You still get the sweat absorption of the double layer. Other designs have this sweat proofing built in, but I don't think that's the way to go because what if you don't want sweat proof all the time? I decided sweat proofing should be optional and therefore removable. That's the design I settled on for my sweat proof shirt.

Image of double panel under arm of undershirt to aid sweat absorption

That was the design. I choose a bamboo viscose material for its sweat absorption properties. Plus this stuff is super breathable and soft on the skin. It's hard to describe what this fabric feels like until you try it out. Somehow it feels both substantial and light, comforting but also breathable. It's because the bamboo fabric has smooth fibres and the fact that it is made from plant material that it just works so well on the skin. Once I tried it, I was hooked. I decided, this bamboo fabric would make the best sweat proof and breathable undershirts.

As soon as my design was ready, I started to wear my brand new undershirt and found it worked. On a typical day, the undershirt reduced my sweat marks by around 90%. If it wasn't a typical day and I was majorly sweating (say I had to do a presentation - or I was just having one of those hot days), then I carry a spare and change the underlayer mid-morning. The best thing is no one would know I was wearing it. The way the neckline is cut it is effectively invisible to the outside world. So even if I need to slip on a fresh undershirt mid morning no one would know but me.

I thought others might be looking for the same solution. So I had 500 made and opened a shop online. They started selling, and I got good feedback about the design, the quality and most importantly about the breathable fabric. So good was the feedback that I designed a new style and had another 800 made.

That's how it got started. Now we are looking to expand the range into sports tops (for skiing), new improved designs (for office wear) and underwear in the form of men's trunks and briefs. Wherever we decide to take our range, one thing is sure. It will all be about the fabric and the feel. You can be sure of that.