Interview with Jude Taylor & Saam Zonoozi

In our first ever joint interview for AMBITION, we were thrilled to speak to @picante founders Jude Taylor and Saam Zonoozi who have been slowly but surely been dressing London’s coolest personalities whether you know it or not. From best mates to brand owners, the duo have branched out into spot-on restaurant guides, music playlists and more, carving out rock solid communities of loyal supporters along the way. We speak to them about their journey as founders and the exciting opportunities coming their way.

Where does your ambition come from?

Saam Zonoozi: I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I’m constantly striving for something better. Something Jude and I want to do is make sure we are putting out high quality stuff to the world. We just want to be putting out better things and I think that is what ambition is for me. 

Jude Taylor: It sounds a bit cliche but for me, probably from my dad. He is a businessman and my ambition probably comes from that. I grew up knowing I didn’t want to work for a corporation.  Every time I’ve worked for someone -  and all my previous employers would probably agree - I’ve not enjoyed it. I always had the idea that I wanted to create something. I looked at my school yearbook and even then I was coming up with names for clothing brands, so I always wanted to do that. 

S: I think also, being in a corporate job, there is ambition in that, but for me personally, I love the mystery and uncertainty of not knowing where I’ll be in 5 years, but at least being able to direct the journey. A year ago, looking at today I would not have thought this is where we would be. It’s small steps, but we are getting somewhere, and it’s about striving to get somewhere.

J: I actually hate the uncertainty, but I think it’s the uncertainty that gives you the butterflies that spurs you on. Big sky thinking with no end in sight. And to be blunt, from the ambition point of view, I just like really nice things, whether it’s clothes, cars, holidays…I’m not that materialistic, but I want to do well and have nice things. We were both working at Burberry and thought, ‘we’re not going to own Ferrari’s if we work at Burberry.’ Now there’s no ceiling. 

Tell us a little about how everything kicked off with Picante. 

J: At Burberry, Saam and I got pulled into a room during Riccardo Tisci’s first collection. They basically got all the young people in the room that dressed well or had nice trainers, and it was like, ‘how do we release this collection to the world?” That’s where we both met and we clicked on a level of social media and marketing. Saam was more on the analytical side and I was more on the creative side but we both had so many ideas for social and digital marketing. That’s where our skill set was. We loved clothing but our skill set was in marketing. The ambition was there, the desire to create something and market it, and then our love for fashion is how PICANTE was born.

You’re our first ever joint cover. What role do each of you play in the business? 

S: I think we both have this level of creativity and passion. Jude is very meticulous and really cares about the finer details in things, meaning the output is always extremely high. We’re always putting out really perfect stuff. In that sense, I’m more like, ‘let’s just get something out and build off it.’ There’s this contrast between us where we’ll go back and forth with each other and come up with something really great. We’ll come up with an entire campaign for a collection and we’ll stick with it. It’s also constant learning from each other as well. But at the end of the day we started the business because we’re best mates. The main focus is always going to be what’s best for the business, egos aside.

J: There are sometimes we disagree, but we are both very level headed and agree on what’s most beneficial. The magic happens when we are just chatting about ideas. The marketing, creative, ideation and innovation comes in discussion. If financial stuff was down to me, we would have no money, whereas Saam wrings it in. That balance we have comes down to absolutely everything. Saam handles a lot of the more financial and logistical or operational stuff. He is way more mathematical and structured in that sense. When it comes to photo editing, my eye is one of my strongpoints, but we both do a bit of everything ourselves. One photo for a campaign will probably go back and forth between us about 4 times. 

How have you been able to garner such a loyal and engaged community, both online and offline? 

S: I think consistency is really important for that, and also the product that we put out at the end of the day isn’t just the product of Jude and I, but also the product of what our community thinks and wants. We have small groups of customers or friends that we bounce ideas off. We also incentivise customers with early access, discounts and freebies if they give us feedback on our products. We know who our core group of customers are and what they like, so we really pay attention to what it is they actually want. 

J: We started a ‘Close Friends’ on instagram and push for feedback there. We also ask our followers to engage with the content and help boost it by sharing it but always incentivise that, as Saam said. 

S: Creating more of a lifestyle around PICANTE, rather than just the clothes, creates more of a community, which is one thing we wanted to do when we started PICANTE guides. 

J: At one point, we were dropping product and our friends and people who knew of it were loving it, but we never just wanted to just sell product. A lot of our relationships are with restaurants, and food is so important to us. People ask us all the time personally for restaurant recommendations, so we were like, let’s just do a PICANTE guide.

How important has growing your personal brands over the years been to the success of your various entrepreneurial ventures?  

J: It’s an interesting one. We both have a modest following on Instagram, but it’s marginal. I think the learning of working with brands personally and developing relationships on social media through sharing our lifestyle has helped support the PICANTE journey.

S: It helps to put a face to the brand as well, and I think the more we convey what we are interested in personally, you can see those things shine in the product we put out. We both love food, for example, and that’s shone through PICANTE guides, the Berenjak collaboration and our subtle food references in design. But there is a dotted line between us and PICANTE on our social media, and I think that’s a great way to grow it and give it more context. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the brand is not propped up by us, but by itself, and if we weren’t involved in the business then it would continue as is. PICANTE is its own entity.

J: The only thing I’d say though is that it does put a bit of pressure on the business. Whatever we post can affect the business. It makes me a bit more selective about brand partnerships on my personal social media. I think the benefit of our personal brands playing a role in PICANTE is that we shoot lots of influencers and personalities in the product, which have all come from personal relationships. 

Your brand instills a conscious behaviour towards the environment. In addition to striving for sustainability, what other values are important to you both as business owners?

S: Yeah, I think that was a really important thing to set in stone from the beginning because that’s quite hard to change once you’re a bit more established. We instilled that right from the start. 

J: In terms of other values, we didn’t want to sell product just for the sake of selling product. We want to be more of a lifestyle, offering more to the community be it restaurant recommendations, Spotify playlists or otherwise. 

S: One of our core values is making sure we are putting out the best quality and never doing anything half measured.

What’s been the greatest risk you’ve ever taken? 

J: Hands down, us leaving our full time jobs to do PICANTE full time. It was a really nice side hustle at first and we made a bit of money on the side, but then it got to the point where we had to choose the stable salary or risk doing PICANTE full time. Since we’ve made that step, we’ve actually taken no money from PICANTE, we’ve reinvested all profits, and both just found a way of making it work personally, by taking on freelance consultation work to pay the bills.

S: Leaving our jobs becoming uncomfortable was one of the biggest risks, but I believe becoming uncomfortable unleashes a new side of you. Some of the things we’ve done, we just wouldn’t have been able to do with a full time job on the side. It’s an investment and we are excited to see more and more growth. Taking that risk in the first place has opened up so many doors.

J: It’s en route to pay off and I feel happier now. I feel more stressed, but everyday we are doing things we love to do. Pressure makes diamonds.

Since the first PICANTE collection, it feels like you guys have had your gas on the pedal ever since. What’s your secret to a good work/life balance? 

S: This is where Jude and I are very different. I think I can work 24/7 and be very happy. When I’m chilling at home, I’d rather just be chilling at home on my laptop working. My downtime can also be doing customer service or editing loads of images. I’m happy doing it.

J: I struggle with allocating time and I need to really separate it. I like to have a little more structure, waking up early, going for a run, allocating set times for lunch and dinner etc. Structure keeps me somewhat sane.

First clothing, now restaurant guides…what’s next for PICANTE? 

S: We’re starting to explore wholesalers. We’ve had a few interested and it’s such a great thing to see people interested in buying our brand and stocking them in their store. We want to grow out the PICANTE guide and it’s opened up so many doors. We’ve seen so many restaurants interested in working with us, and there’s merch opportunities there too. We also want to offer more products clothing-wise and widen the range a lot more. We’re scaling in 2023.

J: We’re branching into alcohol, too. A full cocktail range will be launching in December. 2023 is going to be a good year.