Born to Design: Francesca Canepa’s journey from Peru to Paris to NYC
September 25, 2021

Francesca Canepa, founder of Port Zienna, has been designing and sewing clothes since she was a teenager. She grew up in the coastal city of Lima, Peru where she was inspired by its nature, culture and her close-knit family. At the age of 18, Francesca moved to Paris and enrolled at Mod’art International Fashion School. After receiving her bachelor degree in fashion design and patternmaking, she moved to NYC where she studied merchandising at FIT. Adding the business side to her technical knowledge was a crucial part of Francesca’s path to launching her own clothing line. 

We loved learning about the inspiration behind Francesca’s career. 

Why did you decide to become a designer? 

I always knew I wanted to go into fashion and never even considered anything else! When I was 15, I went to a design-focused summer program in London called Instituto Marangoni. We designed, cut and sewed clothes under the instruction of incredible teachers. The program culminated with a design competition and I won first place!  A few years later, I won my second design contest in Paris. I was hooked. 

Why did you move to the U.S.? 

I moved to NYC in 2012 to pursue my masters in merchandising. I knew how to create beautiful clothes but I didn’t know how to run a business. While in New York, I worked as a design studio intern at Oscar de la Renta where I assisted designers with embroidery swatches, created new samples, worked on alterations and helped with pre- and post-production of fashion shows. After graduating from FIT, I worked for several years as an embroidery designer for Finesse, an embroidery house in NYC, before launching Port Zienna in 2017. 

What does the name, Port Zienna, mean? 

My main source of inspiration has always been my mother, born in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Her maiden name starts with “Z”. I’ve also always dreamed I would name my first child Sienna, yet in time, I embraced this business as my true firstborn. Taking “Port” from Porto and changing “S” in Sienna to “Z”, I found a way to honor my mother with the name of my business. 

What is one fact about retail that you wish all consumers knew? 

There is a human cost in everything that we create. We should be a little more cautious about what we buy. When I worked in high-fashion couture, I saw firsthand how the retail industry is wasteful and harmful to our planet. Creating trendy clothes led to a lot of trash — wasting sequins, leather and so many fabrics. It broke my heart for the industry I love and inspired me to make sustainability a main pillar of my own business. I spent a lot of time researching sustainable fabrics and best practices for fair labor and a healthy environment. Before launching my business, I even changed my personal habits and the way in which I was living and consuming resources: I stopped buying fast fashion and focused on a minimalist lifestyle. Instead of buying just to keep up with trends, I decided to invest on classic and essential pieces of quality, therefore I will always be “on trend” wearing black and white while dressing with a classic style. I firmly believe living more sustainably is a must, it doesn’t have to be a drastic change, we can start gradually changing our lifestyle for the best.

What is your best selling PZ piece? 

The Kimono at Home! When I first came up with it, I loved it but I had a few people push back so I was unsure if I should produce it. My team, however, said “absolutely, move forward”, and it immediately became our best selling product. People are seeking more comfortable clothing as a result of the pandemic and this piece offers the perfect combination of comfort and style. 

What is your favorite weekend activity? 

Biking, running or visiting my favorite museum, the Brooklyn Museum. I also love to relax and recharge at home with my husband. We will cook a good meal and open a nice bottle of wine. I love hanging out with my friends and going out, but I am a homebody at heart! 

What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? 

Every day there is a new challenge. Some days are great, others, nothing good happens. In the beginning, brand awareness and sales was the biggest challenge to us, it even became a struggle, but we kept going and here we are today.

What are you wearing right now? 

[Laughs]. It’s hot outside today so I’m trying to stay cool in the Brooklyn heat! Black shorts, a beige blouse and sneakers. 

Learn more about Port Zienna on Vogue, Conde Nast, Forbes and many more. And hop over to the PZ website and buy yourself a kimono. It would look fabulous on you and is oh-so-comfortable. 

Written by Jess Owens

Founder & CEO at Greenlist