milan – A “year of balance” is Simone Rizzo’s 2023 vision for Sunnei, the stylish Italian label he co-founded with Loris Messina nearly a decade ago.
The two companies have been gradually expanding their operations since Vanguards Group acquired a majority stake in the company in September 2020.
“The past two years have been tense because we decided to remain involved in decision-making not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of management and overall strategy,” Messina said. “It’s been a really fun thing to do for two years where we build and break. The first year we super build, the second year we destroy, and now it’s the balance period of the third year.”
The flexibility of expansion strategies has always proven to be an asset for the brand, which has been a pioneer in Milan to experiment with collections, presentation and distribution formats. Now, the company is tweaking its business model again, introducing what the designer calls a “master collection” concept.
It is a combination of pre-collection and main collection and will be presented to buyers as a whole at pre-collection time, aiming to give them an overview of what to expect and relieve pressure on the supply chain.
“We wanted to break out of the usual scheme of doing hundreds of things and seeing what happens,” Rizzo said. “We want this to be a super-focused moment so buyers receive collections at the right time and we optimize the supply chain process.”
“We have already shown part of the collection that we will be showing during February Fashion Week,” Messina continued. “We’re leaving out about 15% of the collection, which are just the most specific and complex pieces that require different manufacturing times and different price points. Also, in the long run, we want to restrict everyone from even buying them opportunities, with the intention of making them exclusive to our key partners or our own channels.”
The Master Series initiative will largely replace the groundbreaking Canvas projects Messina and Rizzo launched during the 2020 pandemic. The move has represented the brand’s pre-fall collections in the past, and focuses on the two main collections that Sunnei traditionally presents through catwalk shows during Milan Fashion Week in February and September.
Available on a dedicated VR-enhanced platform and designed to enable wholesale partners to create their own Sunnei collections through customization services, Canvas offers retailers the opportunity to personalize gender-neutral carry pieces by intervening in design aspects, including Variations of each item in ready-to-wear and accessories (changing sleeve length, fabric, color and stitching, etc.) to differentiate its assortment from its competitors.
“Canvas represents for us a way to get around complicated moments. We found a way to move forward in a smart way in this situation. We don’t want to interrupt it now, we just want to improve it,” says Messina, and Emphasize that the service is becoming increasingly unwieldy in production. It will still be offered to key partners for special collaborations, he said.
Peter Baldaszti, CEO of Vanguards Group confirmed: “As the brand matures, so must our commercial strategy, because the original idea of the Canvas series was genius and innovative, but it also faced certain challenges in terms of scaling up.”, its The portfolio also includes the Nanushka and Aeron brands. “So, with Sunnei’s business doubling or tripling every year, we now have to develop a commercial strategy that matches the size of the business.”
Baldaszti defined the new format as a “business game changer” for the brand, touting it creating greater cohesion within the collection and helping “the wholesale customer – which is still very important and will be a very important part of the business – build Their Sunnei product is more strategic.”
The first iteration of the new approach will be tested this week at a sales event in Paris, where Baldaszti believes “the Sunnei energy vibes very well” and the brand will become more active.
The group’s plans to expand the brand’s international appeal will include community building, communications and marketing.
“The bottom line is that the business will likely break even by 2023, which is a crucial milestone in the life of the company,” Baldaszti said.
Without disclosing financial figures, the executive predicted Sunnei’s business would grow seven to eight times by the end of 2023 since Vanguards Group first invested 6 million euros in the brand.
“Sunnei has found real success in certain regions where its strong focus on community and culture, two key pillars of the brand, resonated well and found an easy way to do so. But I think there are other market values that resonate equally, we just need to invest more,” the chief executive said, citing South Korea, Italy and the US as top performers.
Over the next 18 months, North America will continue to be the main focus of the strategy, along with China and the UK, where executives say their potential remains untapped.
“We’re trying to find the right balance with Peter. Rather than having a bombastic business plan in the short term, it’s better to double down [sales] At the same time trying to be discreet and keep the brand value as much as possible,” Rizzo noted. “On the one hand, the US is very interesting and exciting, but we want to build new models with our partners to avoid over-distribution…also because we don’t want to saturate the online channel ,” said the designer, who also emphasized that distribution has increased “only in quality, not in quantity” since Vanguards Group began backing the company.
“The key to not diluting the brand and not just being a commercial commodity is to build and align with the communities Sunnei has built in major cities and markets. Of course, that also requires a certain local presence, so make it a pop-up or a music event or a dinner or other activities,” Baldaszti added.
The executive also highlighted a compelling product offering, with a particular emphasis on accessories that “you can’t compare to anything on the market.” Sunnei has been going strong in footwear, starting with the 1000Chiodi sneaker with rubber studs, but over the past nine months, with the launch of the Lacubetto cube leather bag, the Labauletto was launched in 2019.
Footwear currently accounts for about 25 percent of total sales, Baldaszti said. The executive is aiming for a healthy balance between overall accessories and ready-to-wear, which account for 40 percent of sales. Those two segments are the drivers of the business, but Sunnei also has eyewear, jewelry and pet apparel, as well as a Sunnei Objects lifestyle line launching in 2021.
Currently, 75% of total sales come from wholesale channels. The brand is sold in LuisaViaRoma, La Samaritaine, Ssense, GR8, SKP, Rinascente, B1ock concept store, Boon The Shop and Dover Street Market in Beijing.
In addition to e-commerce, Sunnei has a flagship store in Via Vela in Milan, which was originally the brand’s headquarters. While Baldaszti said he firmly believes in the direct-to-consumer model, plans to open additional Sunnei stores are “still well ahead of us”.
“I think it’s very important to create the right Sunnei pop-up experience, both dtc and key wholesalers, so that’s something we’re investing in this year and in 2024,” Baldaszti said.
Last year, Messina and Rizzo unveiled a roving inflatable pop-up concept developed by design collective Parasite 2.0 exclusively for their bags. The designer’s vision is to continue working with architects to create new forms, all based on simplicity.
“We’re at a point where we’re evaluating optimization criteria. Popups don’t have to be playgrounds, and the concept feels outdated… We want to provide the easiest and more usable experience possible, and we’re imagining that to serve the community space, so that it can also be adapted to each different city,” Rizzo said.
Communication will follow the same rationalization, as the designer acknowledges the excessive sharing on the brand’s social media. “We’ve squeezed digital channels: now we want to focus on quality and coordinate communication peaks to match our campaigns,” Rizzo said.
However, the brand’s ironic and clever digital presence has helped the founders gain a cult following over the years and put them on the radar of investors.
“My first encounter with Sunny was in the middle of 2019. I started following them online, and I always felt that whatever they did was always a little bit different, with a certain angle and a certain clarity, and I think that’s in this Territory matters,” recalls Baldaszti, who praised the brand’s strong cultural assets and “very recognizable and unique identity.”
These factors are part of the criteria Baldaszti considers when evaluating suitable brands to expand the Vanguards Group’s product portfolio.
“The most important aspect is always the creative talent and the creative founders coming from scratch, but we’re also very focused on having an established team that also has some business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “Brands of the future have to think like media brands in the way they approach content and build brands and communities. Sunnei is a great example,” he said.