Sophie Weill and her sister Kiki are in their early 30s, but ready to slow down. Sophie, who has built a career in communications, running her own public relations agency for the past four years, and Kiki, who works in health care as a speech therapist, take an annual sister trip. For Sofia’s 30th, they chose Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s where Piano Piano, their new home appliance company, was strangely born. (Piano means “slow” in Italian, and thus, a fitting name for their new venture.)
“I had no plans to start a company, but when we were there, we took a cooking class and the lady who was instructing us just kept repeating the words slowly– when he put the wine in the sauce, when he stirred it. It was just this effort to be present in the moment,” says Sophie.
This reminder to slow down came at a time when both sisters felt a little overwhelmed with their busy, career-driven lives. “PR is a fast-paced industry. There is a never enough factor to it, where you can always do more. I have been trying to build an agency with my business partner [Megan Maguire] which is more thoughtful. But I often wonder, where are we going or running?”
While her younger sister Kiki works as a speech therapist, rather than in PR, she echoed a similar sentiment of quality over quantity. “Even in health care, although I love working with my patients, I find that we’re just trying to treat as many patients as possible and you’re not giving everyone the thoughtful time they probably deserve. After the trip I realized, maybe I can’t do 12 hour days, but the time I give to each patient, I’m more invested in it.”
For both sisters, it was a pause button on what had been life-go. And the answer Sophie says was not another Italian vacation. “I just realized that 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 time to enjoy your coffee, enjoy a few minutes of joy during a meal,” adds Kiki.
Inspired by the ceramics they saw in shops in Italy, the pair decided to start a business that only celebrated the craftsmanship of artisans who worked slowly to make everyday plates, glasses and plates – all hand-painted, but also embodied this ideas of a slower, more beautiful everyday life.
“I love my life in America and 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 on their vacation, the sisters began working with potters and artisans in Vietri Sul Mare to bring select items to sell in the US. On November 1, 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 while building the company, the sisters have been surprised by the response. “Our plates have been a huge 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, adds Sophie, is a reminder of what they saw in Italy. “None of our stuff is going to be minimal or monochromatic. There are already companies that do this well. We, instead, ask our question, ‘Does this make you feel alive?’
Since this is a self-funded venture, they are doing everything themselves, including packing orders and involving family. “I want to understand the customer journey. It is also useful for me for my PR business, so I can better consult with clients. But I don’t care about the growth at all costs mentality. I haven’t thought about an exit. That is not the purpose of this brand. If someone sends me a photo of eating on Piano Piano’s plates, I’m happy and satisfied with that. We’re not doing this to compete with American consumerism,” she says.
While the pair 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 pause and maybe ask, “Does this make you feel alive? ” If not, it may be time to rotate.
And that’s the message Piano Piano hopes to evoke with its branding and storytelling.