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Inspired by her parents’ roots, Angela Phun-Corsino’s Little Zi sources exclusively from Peru, a region known for its luxurious Pima cotton.
Crunching numbers as a credit risk analyst at a top-tier financial institution by day and designing childrenswear by night (and weekends), Angela Phun-Corsino’s lifestyle defines the term “workaholic.” Yearning for more creativity than a career in finance would allow, the fourth-generation entrepreneur teamed with her mother, Zizzi Phun, an experienced tailor and bridal designer, to try their hand at childrenswear full-time with the launch of Little Zi in 2017.
“It’s such an upbeat and friendly industry,” Phun-Corsino says, comparing it to the rigid, calculated environment of a banking institution. “The research and preparation to finally launch our own label was extensive, but the overall atmosphere and motivating individuals we’ve met along the way have made every extra hour worth it.”
Inspired by Phun-Corsino’s parents’ roots, Little Zi sources exclusively from Peru, a region known for its luxurious Pima cotton. “With a focus on sizes up to 24 months, the softness of our fabric is imperative,” Phun-Corsino says, adding that the mother-daughter duo has been meticulous about the label’s organic quality since day one. “We never compromise on Little Zi’s buttery hand feel because that’s always going to be a priority for moms when they’re shopping for babies.”
Designed with today’s busy families in mind, Little Zi garments are easy to wash and dry and include several sophisticated, mix-and-match prints, all made from natural dyes and priced under $50 MSRP. “We are very big on nature,” Phun-Corsino says of the label’s aesthetic. “Flowers are a go-to for Little Zi, often in an assortment of rich colors that are just oh-so-beautiful.” The Spring ’20 collection includes a variety of signature hand-knitted tops with jersey fabric bottoms, delicate bubble silhouettes and printed sunhats for little boys and girls. The new collection also features several summery prints like seas creatures, pineapples and lemons.
Since it debut, Phun-Corsino says Little Zi hasn’t only challenged her creatively, but the new path as a designer has opened her eyes to what life should truly be about. “Coming from finance, I’ve never been more sure that money is not the ultimate reward,” she says. “Yes, you need it—especially to pay rent in New York—but seeing others happy from doing what makes me happy…now that’s the ultimate reward.”
What was it like crossing over from analyst to designer? Challenging, and I’m still learning each day. I’d say the biggest adjustment came with learning to be more flexible. There’s going to be things you don’t expect. Retailers will make last-minute order cancellations or want to suddenly change their payment method. In finance, where my background was credit records, if there’s a payment, it’s due at 3 p.m. with no exceptions. But with Little Zi, trust and flexibility are huge factors in attracting and retaining customers. You have to keep communication open and work with your partners on a very human level. Once I adapted to this way of business, it’s been nothing but refreshing.
What’s next on Little Zi’s to-do list? We’ll be introducing our first-ever resort collection, which is quite exciting. The sizing will run larger, from 2 to 10. In preparation, we’ll be going to Bali to meet with the manufacturers that produce a special type of rayon. It’s a particularly thin material that folds beautifully and is often used in jumpsuits for adults. This next step will surely be an energizing adventure for our brand. I can’t wait to start packing!
What’s been the most popular Spring ’20 style among buyers? Funny story, actually. My mom was designing a print for our spring collection. She draws everything on little pieces of paper. We then send it to our manufacturer in Peru, and they make a digital rendering of it for the production team. For this spring, we created a star pattern she sketched, which was interpreted much more literally than anticipated—imperfect lines and all! We were nervous about the hand-drawn effect on the geometric shape, but it serendipitously brought a lot of character to the piece. Buyers loved it! The star print is now our top-seller for spring.
How about your personal favorite spring design? Oh, I always love our bubbles! I’m particularly keen on our light blue bubble for Spring ’20, which includes a beautiful floral pattern on a jersey fabric with a knit top and crochet detailing on the neckline. It’s a must-see!
What do you love most about being a designer? Seeing the customers’ reactions to our latest collection is priceless. When a customer feels a new design and smiles, it’s like winning the lottery to me. I also just love the human element that comes with working in the children’s industry. Getting to personally know your production team, retailers, customers—you realize you’re a part of something that is so much more than just clothing. It’s a community.
What advice would you give a young designer trying to break into the industry? I would start by saying how wonderful childrenswear is to be a part of. That said, it’s going to be a lot of work, but don’t ever doubt yourself. Just think of yourself as a vessel, moving forward one day at a time. And never take rejection too personally. Just keep going because that’s the only way you’ll keep growing.