MILAN – “The year of balance” is what Simone Rizzo expects in 2023 for Sunnei, the well-known Italian brand he launched with Loris Messina almost a decade ago.
Since Vanguards Group took a majority stake in the company in September 2020, the duo has been gradually growing the business.
“These last two years have been intense because we decided to stay involved in the decision-making part not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of management and overall strategy,” said Messina. “We’ve been building and tearing down for two years, which is a very interesting thing. The first year we built hyper, the second year we destroyed it, and now it’s time for a third year of balance.”
Flexibility in outreach strategies has always proven to be an asset for the brand, which has been a forerunner in Milan in experimenting with collections, presentations and distribution formats. Now the company is changing its business model once again, introducing the “master collection” concept, as the designers put it.
It is a combination of pre- and main collections that will be revealed in full to buyers at the time of the pre-collections, aimed at giving them an insight into what to expect, as well as easing pressure on the supply chain.
“We wanted to break away from our usual pattern of doing hundreds of things and then see what happens,” Rizzo said. “We want this to be a super focused moment so that buyers can deliver the collection on time and optimize supply chain processes.”
“We are already presenting part of the collection that we will show during the fashion week in February,” continued Messina. “We’re leaving out 15 percent of that collection, which is just the most special and complicated pieces that take a different amount of time to produce and have different prices. Plus, in the long term we’d also like to limit the chances of everyone buying them in order to keep them exclusive to our main partners or our own channels.”
The “master collection” movement will essentially replace the pioneering Canvas project Messina and Rizzo launched in 2020 amid the pandemic. This initiative served for the brand’s pre-collections and to support the two main lineups that Sunnei traditionally unveils through runway shows during Milan Fashion Week in February and September.
Available on a dedicated VR-enhanced platform and aimed at enabling wholesale partners to build their Sunnei collections through a personalization service, Canvas offered retailers the ability to customize genderless carry-on pieces, including ready-to-wear and accessories, tinkering with the design aspects of each item (changing sleeve length, fabrics, colors and stitching, and more) to differentiate their assortment from competitors.
“Canvas for us has represented a way to bypass a complicated moment. We found a way to proceed in a smart way within this context. It’s not that we want to stop it now, just evolve it,” Messina said, noting that the service was becoming difficult to handle in terms of production. It will still be offered to key partners for special collaborations, he said.
“As the brand matured, our commercial strategy had to mature as well, because the original idea of the Canvas collection was ingenious and innovative, but also came with some challenges in growing it,” confirmed Peter Baldaszti, CEO of Vanguards Group. , which also has Nanushka and Aeron brands in its portfolio. “So, with Sunnei’s business doubling or tripling every year, we now have to come up with a commercial strategy that also matches the scale of the business.”
Baldaszti described the new format as a “commercial game-changer” for the brand, stressing that it creates greater cohesion in the collection and that it helps build “wholesale accounts – which are still very important and will be a very important part of the business”. offer their Sunni more strategically.”
The first iteration of the new approach is being tested this week with a sales campaign in Paris, a city where Baldaszti believes “Sunnei energy resonates really well” and one where the brand will become more active.
The group’s plan to boost the label’s appeal internationally will include community building, communications and marketing.
“The most important thing is that in 2023 the business will most likely return to the lowest point, which is a very important milestone in the life of the company,” said Baldaszti.
Without disclosing financial figures, the executive predicted that by the end of 2023 the Sunnei business would have grown seven to eight times since Vanguards Group first invested €6 million in the brand.
“Sunnei has been really successful in some geographies where its strong focus on community and culture, which are the two main pillars of the brand, are resonating very well and have found an easy way. But there are other markets where I think these values resonate just as much, we just need to invest more,” noted the CEO, who ranked South Korea, Italy and the US as the best performing countries.
North America will continue to be the main focus of the strategy for the next 18 months, along with China and the UK, where executives said its potential remains untapped.
“We are trying to find the right balance with Peter. Instead of making exaggerated short-term business plans, we’re doubling down [sales] trying to be careful and preserve the values of the brand as much as possible,” noted Rizzo. “For one, the US is super interesting, there’s excitement, but we want to build new models with partners to avoid over-distribution… also because we wouldn’t want to saturate the online channel,” said the designer. He also pointed out that since Vanguards Group started supporting the company, the distribution has increased “only in terms of quality, not quantity”.
“The key to not diluting the brand and not becoming just a commercial commodity is to build and be consistent with the communities that Sunnei is building in key cities and markets. And of course, this also requires a certain local presence, so be it pop-ups or music events or dinners or other activations,” added Baldaszti.
The executive also highlighted the product’s compelling offering, particularly highlighting the accessories, which “you can’t compare to anything else on the market.” Sunnei has always been strong in footwear, starting with its 1000 Chiodi sneakers with rubber soles, but in the last nine months it has put a greater focus on bag development with the launch of the Lacubetto cube leather bag that doubled as Labauletto of the “It” style introduced for the first time in 2019.
Baldaszti said that currently the shoe business accounts for about 25 percent of total sales. The executive aims to strike a healthy balance between general accessories and ready-to-wear, with accessories accounting for 40 percent of sales. These two segments are the drivers of the business, but Sunnei also has eyewear, jewelry and pet apparel, as well as lifestyle line Sunnei Objects launching in 2021.
Right now, 75 percent of total sales are generated from the wholesale channel. The brand is carried at LuisaViaRoma, La Samaritaine, Ssense, GR8, SKP, Rinascente, B1ock Concept Store, Boon The Shop and Dover Street Market in Beijing, among others.
In addition to e-commerce, Sunnei has a flagship store on Milan’s Via Vela, which originally served as the brand’s headquarters. While Baldaszti said he strongly believes in the direct-to-consumer model, plans to open more Sunnei stores are “still a long way ahead of us.”
“What I think will be very important is creating the right Sunnei pop-up experiences, both dtc and with major wholesalers, so that’s something we’ll be investing in for this year and 2024 ,” said Baldaszti.
Last year Messina and Rizzo launched an inflatable pop-up stroller concept developed with design collective Parasite 2.0 and dedicated to its bags. The designers’ vision is to continue working with architects to create new formats, all rooted in simplicity.
“We are at a moment in which we are evaluating the optimization criteria. A pop-up shouldn’t be a playground, that concept feels outdated… We want to provide the simplest and most pragmatic experience possible, and we’re imagining spaces that serve communities so they can adapt to each of them different. city,” Rizzo said.
Communication will follow the same streamlining, as the designer admitted that there has been oversharing on the brand’s social media. “We have squeezed digital channels: now we want to focus on quality and coordinate communication peaks to coincide with our events,” said Rizzo.
However, the brand’s ironic and witty digital presence is what helped the founders gain a cult following throughout the years and put them on the radar of investors as well.
“The first time I met Sunnei was in mid-2019. I started following them online and I’ve always felt that everything they do is always a little bit different, with a certain angle and a certain clarity, which I think it’s crucial in this landscape,” recalls Baldaszti, who praised the brand’s strong cultural equity. and “very distinct and distinct identity.”
These elements are part of the criteria that Baldaszti takes into account when evaluating suitable brands to expand the portfolio of Vanguards Group.
“The most important aspect is always the creative talent and the creative founders who are building something from nothing, but we’re also very focused on having an established team that also has a certain level of business acumen and entrepreneurship. he said. “Brands of the future must think like media brands in how they approach content and build their brand and community. Sunnei is a great example of that,” he said.