Sophie Weill and her sister Kiki are in their early 30’s but ready to slow down. Sophie who has built a a communications career, running her own public relations agency for the last four years, and Kiki, who works in healthcare as a speech therapist, take an annual sisters’ trip. For Sophie’s 30th, they chose Italy’s Amalfi coast. It’s there that Piano Piano, their new homeware company was born serendipitously. (Piano means “slow” in Italian, and thus, an apt name for their new venture.)
“I didn’t have any plans of starting a company, but when we there, we took a cooking class and the lady instructing us just kept repeating the words piano piano—when she put the wine in the sauce, when she stirred it. It was just this effort to be present, in the moment,” Sophie says.
That reminder to slow down came at a time when both sisters felt a bit overwhelmed with their busy, career-driven lives. “PR is a fast-paced industry. There is a never enough-ness factor to it where you can always do more. I’ve tried to build an agency with my business partner [Megan Maguire] that is more thoughtful. But often I ask myself, where are we going or running to?”
While her younger sister Kiki works as a speech therapist, and not in PR, she echoed a similar sentiment of quality over quantity. “Even in health care, although I love working with my patients, I see that we’re just trying to treat as many patients as possible, and you’re not really giving everyone the thoughtful time they probably deserve. After the trip, I realized, maybe I cannot do 12-hour days, but the time that I do give each patient, I’m more invested in it.”
For both sisters, it was a pause button on what had been go-go lives. And the answer Sophie says was not another Italian vacation. “I just realized I didn’t want to spend my life, waiting to travel to a destination like that to slow down, or waiting for the weekend to have a ‘slow’ moment.”
“The message goes beyond the product. Enjoy each day. Take time to enjoy your coffee, have a few minutes of joy over a meal,” Kiki adds.
Inspired by the ceramics they saw in the shops in Italy, the duo decided to start a business that only celebrated the craftsmanship of the artisans, who worked slowly to make the everyday plates, cups and platters—all of which are hand-painted, but also embodied this idea of a slower, more beautiful life each day.
“I love my life in America, and I wanted to bring this philosophy, and the beauty of the Amalfi coast to my community here in New York,” Sophie says.
Forgoing a beach day on their vacation, the sisters instead started working with potters and artisans in Vietri Sul Mare to bring a select few items to sell in the US. On November 1st, they launched their brand, named after the Italian phrase taught to them by their Italian instructor.
Running a lean operation, and continuing to do their day jobs, as they build out the company, the sisters have been surprised by the response. “Our platters have been a big hit with customers, and we’re surprised because they’re a pricier product. But they’ve resonated as a beautiful center piece for the table.”
The colorful collection, Sophie adds, is a reminder of what they saw in Italy. “None of our stuff is going to be minimal or monochrome. There are already companies doing that well. We, instead, ask our question, ‘Does this make you feel alive?’”
Since this is a self-funded venture, they’re doing it all themselves, including packing the orders and getting family involved. “I want to understand the consumer journey. It’s helpful for me for my PR business as well, so I can consult clients better. But I’m not interested in the mentality of grow at whatever cost. I haven’t thought about an exit. That’s not the intention of this brand. If someone sends me a picture of eating on the Piano Piano plates, I’m happy and content with that. We are not doing this to compete with American consumerism,” she says.
While the duo are the not first set of Americans to be inspired by the beauty of the Amalfi coast and a slower pace of life, it is a nice reminder to take a pause, and perhaps ask, “Does this make you feel alive?” If not, it may be time to pivot.
And that’s the message Piano Piano hopes to evoke with its brand and storytelling.