MILAN — When Italian label Sunnei posted on its Instagram account in mid-June a video teaser depicting the creation of human-like avatars, a brand follower commented with the “Time for #futurefashion,” phrase.

To be sure, Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, who established the label in 2014, were thinking long-term about the future of fashion and of their brand as they geared up to chart a new course.

The brand is debuting Wednesday a new business model and platform called Canvas, which is intended to strengthen Sunnei’s relationship with its wholesale partners and eventually with end consumers — all with a little help from VR.

The VR-enhanced platform developed in-house will offer 30 select retailers the chance to customize 50 genderless fashion pieces including ready-to-wear and accessories such as handbags, footwear and costume jewels.

“We had been thinking about setting up our own business model for quite some time….When the lockdown was enforced here in February, we thought it was the right moment to experiment with this new approach, also because the pandemic was casting uncertainties on the industry and as a digitally savvy company we felt ready to navigate unexplored waters,” said Rizzo in an exclusive interview with WWD.

“The Canvas project establishes a tight collaboration with our partner stores, for an increased synergy with them that transcends seasonality and trends, with a collection that is made of carryovers that have also zero impact on our operations,” Rizzo explained pointing to the project’s sustainable silver lining.

The brand currently generates around 70 percent of its revenues from wholesale.

Although the project is specifically destined to retailers, Sunnei will mark its debut by joining the official calendar of Milan Digital Fashion Week, slated for July 14 to 17, by releasing a video on July 15 at 3 p.m. that will present the Canvas collection to a broader audience.

In a sign that Rizzo and Messina are not planning a complete overhaul of the brand’s strategy, Sunnei is still planning to host a showcase during September’s Milan Fashion Week, its details and format still under wraps. Rizzo described the strategy as a two-pronged affair, with runway collections poised to veer toward a more experimental approach and the Canvas project encompassing customized wardrobe staples and signature styles, thus offering retailers the chance to tap into both facets of the label.

“We were working at a fast pace, feeling the pressure of delivering one collection after the other and this was impacting our creative élan and choking our chance to do research, which requires more time and a slower pace,” Rizzo said echoing the sentiment of many designers calling for a slower approach to business.

The Canvas’ five-step customization program will give buyers the opportunity to change a few design details, such as the length of sleeves on shirts, as well as fabrics and colors, plus a few details such as dyeing and stitches. While technologically user-friendly, the Canvas platform was designed to be “aesthetically in sync with the world of Sunnei, aspirational and arty,” he said pointing to the figurine-like avatars animating the digital space.

Among the 30 retailers involved, the Sunnei’s cofounders carefully selected their partners while aiming for a broad distribution across geographies, especially in Asia, the brand’s most relevant market.

Poised to arrive in stores starting from December, each garment will be flanked by a dedicated label comprising both the brand’s and the retailer’s names and Sunnei plans to mark the debut at each unit with dedicated digital or physical events in-store.

“Each partnership is really going to come full circle, encompassing clothes and in-store communication….Our goal is to reach our end customers by way of these partnerships with retailers, which will get the best of the brand without losing sight of their own approach and aesthetics,” Rizzo explained.


A look at the Sunnei’s “Canvas” platform.  Courtesy of Sunnei.

“It offers buyers the opportunity to reflect on their selection and tap into the styles and designs they really feel suitable for the shop and its customers. That speaks to the issues we have faced [in the past] with retailers rushing into buying sessions and selecting similar products,” echoed Messina.

“The starting point has also been about establishing a new course that taps into what we believe will represent the future not only of fashion but also of the entertainment industry as whole, fostering the interaction among end consumers, designers and the fashion folks. It’s quite nerdy, somewhat distant from the fashion perspective,” noted Rizzo.

Seen as project in a pilot phase, Rizzo added the goal is to implement a customization platform also on the brand’s own e-shop, offering customers a similar opportunity.

The Canvas project is part of a broader plan to turn Sunnei into a lifestyle brand, in which the arts, fashion, VR, gaming and entertainment fuse. In keeping with this ethos, Rizzo anticipated Sunnei will organize a range of events at its new headquarters, a three-story building in Milan where they recently relocated. These will include outdoor movie nights held in the building’s courtyard and a Sunnei radio station broadcast from the offices.