Sophie Weill and her sister Kiki are in their early thirties, but ready to slow down. Sophie, who has built a communications career and has run her own PR agency for the past four years, and Kiki, who works as a speech therapist in the healthcare sector, go on an annual sister trip. For Sophie’s 30th birthday, they chose Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s there that Piano piano, their new homeware company was born by chance. (Piano means “slowly” in Italian, and so an apt name for their new venture.)
“I had no plans to start a business but when we were there we took a cooking class and the lady instructing us 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,” says Sophie.
That reminder to slow down came at a time when both sisters were feeling a little overwhelmed by their busy, career-driven lives. “PR is a fast-paced industry. There is a never enough factor that always allows you to do more. I’ve been trying to build an agency with my business partner [Megan Maguire] that’s more thoughtful. But often I wonder: 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 sense of quality over quantity. “Even in healthcare, while 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 that I may not be able to make 12-hour days, but the time I give each patient, I spend more on 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 such a destination to slow down, or waiting for the weekend to have a ‘slow’ moment.”
“The message goes beyond the product. Enjoy every day. Take the time to enjoy your coffee, have a few minutes of fun over a meal,” adds Kiki.
Inspired by the ceramics they saw in the shops in Italy, the duo decided to start a business that celebrated only the craftsmanship of the artisans, who worked slowly to create the everyday plates, cups and saucers – all of which are hand-painted , but also embodied this idea of a slower, more beautiful life every 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,” says Sophie.
Forgoing a beach day while on vacation, the sisters instead went to work with potters and artisans in Vietri Sul Mare to bring back a few select items to sell in the US. On November 1, they launched their brand, named after the Italian phrase they learned from their Italian instructor.
Running a streamlined operation and continuing to do their day job as they built the business, the sisters were surprised by the response. “Our platters are a big hit with customers and we are surprised because they are a more expensive product. But they have resonated as a beautiful centerpiece for the table.
The colorful collection, Sophie adds, is a reminder of what they saw in Italy. “None of our stuff will be minimal or monochromatic. There are already companies that are doing so well. Instead, we ask our question, ‘Does this make you feel alive?’”
Since this is a self-funded venture, they do it all themselves, including packing the orders and involving family. “I want to understand the consumer journey. It is also helpful to me for my PR firm so that I can better consult with clients. But I’m not interested in the mindset of growing at any cost. I didn’t think about an exit. That is not the intention of this brand. If someone sends me a picture of food on the Piano Piano plates, I am happy and satisfied. We are not doing this to compete with American consumerism,” she says.
While the duo aren’t the first group of Americans to be inspired by the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and a slower pace of life, it’s a nice reminder to stop and maybe ask, “Does this make you feel alive? ” If not, it might be time to pivot.
And that is the message that Piano Piano hopes to evoke with its brand and storytelling.