Last month, Sunspel, the 163-year-old British luxury brand best known for its James Bond-beloved polo shirts, announced a new CEO, Raul Verdicchi. Verdicchi, who has experience at luxury brand Ermenegildo Zegna and fashion brand Alpha Tauri, marks the first leadership shift since the brand was bought out by former CEO Nicholas Brooke in 2005.
In his new role, Verdicchi’s priorities include retail expansion, revenue growth and a new focus on elevating the brand’s history and hero items.
The brand, which is still owned by Brooke, is on track to reach $33 million in revenue in 2023. Sunspel was one of the first luxury brands that saw potential in the internet and its commerce opportunities, launching e-commerce in 2012. The brand had strictly sold through wholesale channels until 2010, when it launched its first store in London.
“The brand has strong assets like heritage, product quality, true icons and a real international presence with top retailers,” said Verdicchi. “These build an important foundation for a strong future of expected growth. I see some important similarities between Zegna and Sunspel.” Italy–based Zegna, which has become synonymous with quiet luxury, did $1.6 billion in revenue in 2022.
“It’s not a matter of changing the strategy, but continuing to develop this very savvy approach of building the brand and its growth in the coming years,” said Verdicchi. “This is a British luxury casual wear brand. For an international audience, that is very important. There are many Italian and French luxury casual wear brands, but not as many in the U.K. Sunspel has these elements that make it poised for international growth.”
Physical retail has recently become more important to Sunspel, both in terms of expanding to new markets and offering an experience. Sunspel launched a dedicated women’s store in London in 2014 and its first European store in Berlin in 2016. As the brand strategy shifted, both stores are no longer open. The brand currently operates nine standalone stores in London and New York. It is stocked in over 180 wholesale doors worldwide, including Nordstrom, Saks, Harrods, Selfridges, Bon Marche, Printemps, Rinascente and Isetan.
“It was very insightful to see the way customers enjoy the time spent inside the store — it’s not just a transactional exercise,” said Verdicchi, referring to his observations at the London stores. “They are happy to come, spend time and interact with the team. That’s [of primary importance] when it comes to customer retention.”
In 2024, Sunspel plans to up its focus on growth in the U.S. and Asia. In May, it opened its second NYC store in the Upper East Side, following its Soho location opened in 2018. The new 810-foot space has a fresh, contemporary design and offers the brand’s full collection of menswear and womenswear, without a heavy focus on localization. “In every market, there is value in localizing your message, but at the same time, I would not advocate for extreme localization,” said Verdicchi, adding that an overall strong brand message is a better strategy when expanding globally.
Sunspel will next open a store in Marin, California, with additional stores planned for the second quarter of 2024. “The customers that we have today are extremely loyal to the brand,” said Verdicchi. “The important thing is to keep growing with that customer loyalty preserved, while always keeping an eye on customer acquisition.”
At the same time, the brand is expanding to new categories. It launched its first fragrance in 2019 and introduced a collection of luxury wool activewear in 2021. It is also focusing on sustainability, leveraging fully traceable Californian cotton for its cotton weave polo shirts while still producing items in its own factory in the U.K. The brand has seen minimal Brexit effects due to its local customer base and expanding global presence.
To date, Sunspel has focused heavily on product collaborations. Since 2011, it has partnered with JW Anderson, men’s luxury e-commerce site Mr Porter, model Edie Campbell, minimalist U.K. brand Studio Nicholson and Leach, the pottery studio in St Ives, U.K. It plans to launch three additional collaborations over the next six months.
While most luxury brands like Burberry are focusing on accessories to drive revenue, Verdicchi said Sunspel’s focus remains on its ready-to-wear hero items, which include polo shirts and T-shirts that have earned international acclaim for their quality. “The icon items, and how we tell the story around them, will always be part of the key strategy for future development,” said Verdicchi. “It’s going to be important to show how the rest of the collection connects to those items seamlessly, and accessories will be a part of that.”