Milan – The “year of balance” in 2023 Simone Rizzo is expecting is the hip Italian brand Sunny, which he started with Loris Messina 10 years ago.
Since Vanguards Group took over a majority stake in the company in September 2020, the duo has been gradually growing the business.
“These last two years have been very strong because we decided to participate in the decision-making department not only in innovation, but also in management and overall strategy,” said Messina. “It’s been two years since we built and destroyed something so exciting. The first year we built at a high level, the second year we destroyed and now for the third year we have broken even.
The flexibility in the stretch patterns is always important for the brand, which in Milan is the first to experiment with collections, presentations and distribution formats. Now the company is redefining its business model by introducing the concept of “main collection” as the designers put it.
A pre-collection period is generally a combination of pre- and main collections that are revealed to buyers, to give them an overview of what to expect and also to ease pressure on the supply chain.
“We wanted to deviate from our normal plan of doing hundreds of things and see what happens,” Rizzo said. “We want this to be a very focused period so that buyers can deliver the collection at the right time and we can improve our supply chain processes.”
“We’re presenting part of the collection we’ll be showing at February Fashion Week,” continued Messina. “We leave 15 percent of that collection, that’s unique and complex that takes a different time to produce and has different price points. Additionally, in the long term we want to limit the opportunity to buy even with the goal of keeping everyone to our key partners or our own channels.
The “main collection” action will replace the pioneering canvas project Messina and Rizzo, launched in 2020 during the pandemic. That initiative is for the brand’s pre-collections and, alongside its two main line-ups, Sunny typically shows on the runway during Milan Fashion Week in February and September.
Located on a dedicated VR-enhanced platform and enabling wholesale partners to build their own SUNY collections through customization services, Shera has given retailers the opportunity to intervene in design aspects and personalize genderless wearables, ready-to-wear and accessories. To distinguish each product from the competitors (changing the length of sleeves, fabrics, colors and seams, etc.).
“Canvas represented a way for us to get through a complicated time. In that context, we found a way to proceed in a smart way. It’s not the kind we want to stop now, it’s just an evolution,” said Messina, adding that it is becoming difficult to handle the service in terms of production. He said that he will give special cooperation to the main partners.
Peter Baldasti, CEO of Vanguards Group, said: “As the brand grows exponentially, the initial idea of the Shera collection is smart and innovative. It has Nanushka and Aeron brands in its portfolio. So, Sunny’s business is doubling or tripling every year. With his arrival, we now have to develop a business strategy adapted to the scope of the business.”
Baldashti described the new format as a “business game changer” for the brand, explaining that it creates greater cohesion within the collection and “helps build wholesale accounts – still very important and a very important part of the business”. Their Sunni presents more strategically.
The first iteration of the new approach is being tested in a sales campaign this week in Paris, where Baldashti believes “Sunny’s power will really resonate” and the brand will be more active.
The team’s plan includes community building, communications and marketing to amplify the brand’s appeal globally.
“The most important thing is that by 2023, the business can often turn to break-even, which is a very important milestone in the life of the company,” said Baldashti.
Without disclosing financial figures, the executive predicted that Suni’s business would grow seven to eight times by the end of 2023, when Vanguards Group invested €6 million in the brand.
“Sunnei has been really successful in certain geographies where the strong focus on community and culture, the two key pillars of the brand, resonates well and is seen in a simple way. But these are, I think, other markets. The values resonate so much, we need to invest more,” said the CEO. Top performing countries are South Korea, Italy and the US.
North America will continue to be the main focus of the strategy for the next 18 months, along with China and the UK.
“We’re trying to find the right balance with Peter. Instead of making exaggerated business plans in the short term, we are doubling down. [sales] I’m trying to be as careful as possible and protect the values of the brand,” Rizzo said. “On the one hand, the US is very exciting, there is excitement, but we want to build new models with partners to avoid over-distribution… He also emphasized that since Vanguards Group started supporting the company, the distribution has increased “not in quantity, but in quality”.
“The key to ensuring that the brand does not become a commercial commodity is building the communities that Sunni is building in key cities and markets and maintaining consistency. And of course, that also requires some local presence, be it pop-ups or music events or dinners or other activities,” Baldashti added.
The executive emphasized the impressive product offering, especially the accessories, which “you can’t compare with anything else in the market.” From the 1000 Chiodi sneakers to shoes with rubber soles, Sunny has always been strong, but in the last nine months it’s focused on bag design with the launch of the Lacubetto Cubic leather bag, which doubles down on the “It” style Labauletto first introduced. 2019.
According to Baldashti, currently the footwear business accounts for 25 percent of the 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. Those two segments are the drivers of the business, but Sunny also has eyewear, jewelry and pet wear, as well as the Sunny Things lifestyle line, which launched in 2021.
Currently, 75 percent of total sales are generated from the wholesale channel. The brand is carried by Luisa Viaroma, La Samaritain, Sense, GR8, SKP, Rinascente, B1ock Concept Store, Boon The Shop and Dover Street Market in Beijing, among others.
In addition to e-commerce, Sunny also has a flagship store in Milan’s Via Vella, which originally served as the brand’s headquarters. While Baldashti says he has strong faith in the direct-to-consumer model, plans to open other Sunni stores are still “very far ahead of us.”
“What I think is going to be really important is creating authentic Sunni pop-up experiences, both dtc and with major wholesalers, so that’s something we’re investing in for this year and 2024,” Baldashti said.
Last year, Messina and Rizzo launched an inflatable pop-up concept developed by design collective Parasite 2.0 and dedicated to backpacks. The designers’ vision is to continue working with architects to create new forms, all with simplicity.
“We’re in the process of reviewing the optimization requirements. It shouldn’t be a pop-up playground, that concept seems outdated… We want to provide the simplest and most functional experiences possible and we’re thinking of gaps in the service of communities, so it can adapt to each city,” he said. Rizzo.
Communication follows the same reasoning as the designer believed there was too much sharing of the brand on social media. “We’ve squeezed the digital channels, now we want to focus on quality and coordinate the heights of communication to coincide with our events,” Rizzo said.
But the brand’s ironic and smart digital presence is what has helped the founders gain a cult following over the years and keep them on investors’ radars.
“I met Sunny for the first time in mid-2019. I started following them online and I always felt that anything was a little different, with a certain angle and clarity, which I think is crucial in this landscape,” recalls Baldashti, who appreciates the brand’s strong cultural equity. and “a very recognizable and distinct identity.
These elements are part of the criteria Baldashti considers when evaluating suitable brands to expand Vanguards Group’s portfolio.
“The most important aspect is always creativity and creative founders who are building from nothing, but we also focus on having a team already in place, and there is a certain level of business acumen and entrepreneurship,” he said. “Brands of the future will need to think like media brands in terms of content delivery and the way they build their brand and community. Sunny is a great example of that,” he said.