Hand cream ads versus smiles, the power of our stories, and green dinosaur jumpers
Jesse is one of a kind. He’s the kind of person you call ‘a character’ - pink shirt, denim jacket, purple shorts, a blue and a yellow sock. It pretty much sums up his personality. He’s torn between loving and hating new ideas. He can’t be put in a box. He builds genuine relationships with people that are real. That’s it, no business vs personal life distinction. He’s ambitious about smiling, green dinosaurs, and magic jumpers - you’ve just got to love him.
Jesse’s character and style can also be applied to how his jumper business started. What might seem like random bits and pieces that don’t go very well together at first beautifully converge at the end of the story. And talking about stories, Jesse summed it up well, in a quote that could become one of those famous quotes you see written in a calendar one day: “Our story is all we’ve got. It’s all any of us has got.”
Tell me a bit about you, your story, the jumpers, where the idea came from.
I’m trained as a product designer, that’s what I was passionate about. I also really like fashion, but didn’t think I could ever do a fashion thing. Because how do you do fashion? All fashion’s kind of being done, think of patterns, cuts, and things like that. I was like ‘well yeah, I can do a polka dot shirt, or I can do checked trousers or cool cuts, but actually I can find them if I look hard enough. They’d be out there’.
When I moved to London I met a bunch of people who were in the same situation as me - there was a repeated conversation about coming here, meeting people, and having the city being very transit. You would meet people, you get to know them, you start to become friends and grow a support network, and then they’d go back to Italy or they’d go somewhere else in the world, because that’s the type of person that might come to a city like this.
I have a friend who’s from far north Queensland and her mum made me a jumper. I bought a really crappy jumper in a charity shop, I loved it, and it was falling apart. So I sent her a photo and said ‘can you stitch this up for me and send it back?’. She said no, ‘it’s too complicated, but I’ll send you something else’. And she sent me this wacky dinosaur jumper. When I started wearing it around London people kept asking me ‘where did you get that, I wanna buy that, I’m gonna buy if off you...’, and it just kept happening.
At the same time I’m still having these repeated conversations of not being able to bring people together, and then this other part of me that’s a product designer and wanted to start a new project. So I decided to do a range based on that dinosaur jumper. For the first two sketches I googled children’s drawings. The first ones that came up were a bee and a robot. One of the first people I met in London who became a really good friend is a girl whose facebook says Jo Bee, and the other one is a guy who had a bike which was called ‘cube’. That became his nickname. So at some point I thought ‘oh, I’m doing a robot. The robot’s out of cubes. And I’m doing a bee. I’m gonna need people to model the jumpers. I’ll call one Jo Bee and I’ll call the robot Cube.’ And that’s where the crossover between the people I was meeting in London that I can’t get together and the project started to diverge. I started to do the designs based on a person, either through an experience that we had together, or knowing them and thinking ‘if they were a creature or something, what would they be?’. I asked each person that I based a design on to be the model for the jumpers and we did the photo shoot. And then all those people that I couldn’t get together ended up in one room.
What do you believe makes you unique, what’s one thing that makes you stand out?
I don’t think it’s something that I have, it’s just how I arrive at an idea – it’s organic. I wasn’t thinking ‘oh, I’m gonna go and make jumpers’. I made jumpers because I got a jumper and a bit of inspiration from there. My process is not trying to do anything really big at the start, but just start a sketch, and then through thinking about it, it grows organically. Another thing, which I believe is positive for me, is that I’m really naive. You might call this a fashion label or whatever, but I’m not a fashion person. I’m not a web developer, I’m not any of these things. You don’t get stuck in a box. My fashion designs might not be perfect, or my web design might not be perfect, but they’re also uninhibited because I don’t have the training, I’m just teaching myself how to do it. So that probably works in my advantage to give me a unique aesthetic. It’s a good way to learn. Someone who’s trained might go like ‘what the hell is he doing?’, but it works in my favour, because you don’t have preconceived notions from someone else.
What do you do when you have too many ideas?
It’s a weakness in a lot of ways if you can’t manage it. I end up doing little chunks of everything, and it’s both good and bad. Usually it ends up in a nice little bowl, like lots of little ideas somehow converge. And if you didn’t have them, they couldn’t converge. But it can be a weakness and I can find myself going way off on a tangent, I go like ‘oh, that’s a good idea, I’ll go and do that’. And then ‘why the hell did I just spend two days doing that?’. I’ve got little folders of ideas everywhere that are just sitting there. And then I go and look at it and realise it wasn’t such a great idea after all, but at the time I have to get it done. So depending on how much it grabs me, I usually have to visualise an idea in some way and then I can just chuck it somewhere and be like ‘ok, it’s there, it exists, it’s not just stuck in my head anymore’. Actually, sometimes it’s really good, because you can also get trapped in one idea, and then you get writer's block or whatever if you’ve just been working on the same thing. So other ideas can help to alleviate not just spending all your time on something you’re being stuck with.
Do you have any practical tips on how to focus, assuming that being able to focus is a good thing in a given situation?
I’m not good at it, I would just say a really cliche one, but at least it always helps me. I write down an idea. If you don’t write it down another one comes over the top of it and then you forget. So the only way that I’m able to focus is to have a list. And accountability from someone else is cool. So working a lot by myself is not great. When I have people to collaborate with I deliberately say to them ‘I’m gonna come and meet you on Thursday’. Because then I know this all has to be done by Thursday, otherwise I’m only accountable to myself.
Talking about people and relationships - how do you make relationships work, build long-lasting and deep connections with people?
Try to put people first. That doesn't seem to happen very often, and it’s what I’m always trying to do. I also hope that the product speaks for itself, that it resonates with people, that they just get it, they get that it’s more than just a product or an idea. I care a lot about people. I just hope that they like the humour. Not being so corporate and serious with things.
I think that it’s so important to be able to relate to people. If you can’t maintain basic relationships, not just in business, you’re really gonna struggle, because you’re just gonna piss everyone off.
And that comes back to meeting investors too - people first of all invest in you as a person.
Yes! And don’t you think it’s so cool when you feel that click, when you meet someone you hit it off with, and it becomes more than just a business meeting. That’s why working on projects is just a really cool way to meet people.
And at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what we do. It’s one of the good things about life that our stories write themselves. So if you read a book about an entrepreneur or a musician or whatever, they’ve done a project and you know the product or you know the music, but it’s the story, you read the story. It’s all in the story.
For a long time I used to think about my life as a book. And I’m sure it’s been written and said a lot. You have different chapters. Sometimes chapters are just you turning a corner, you walk down the street and then something happens, and there’s a whole other chapter that opens up. And then other times it’s a more straight and narrow path. Everyone around you is like a character in the book. You can almost close the chapters, and then sometimes those characters interlock into different chapters. To think of it like that is really fascinating to me, it makes it easier to understand.
What do you believe is a skill that you have, which has helped you grow immensely both in personal and business life?
I don’t think it’s a skill, it’s a trade. And it’s one word, it’s tenacity. That’s it. I don’t think I’m particularly good at anything, but I know when I want to do something, I just try my ass off, and if I need to figure out how to do a part of it I just keep trying.
So if you say it’s a trade, do you think it’s something you’ve just got inside of you, or can it be learned?
I don’t know, you could flip a coin on what that is, and it’s going to be different for everyone. But I feel like that tenacity, that point to prove, can actually come from exactly that. For example, if someone gives you a lot of shit and tells you you’re not gonna be anything, you turn around and show them. So I think that tenacity and the idea of ‘I’ve got a point to prove’ can go hand in hand. At least for me, a lot of it is about experiences and circumstances and wanting to say to someone ‘yeah, I did it’. And that then starts to become your own internal battle more than what other people might have said or done. You know you can get there.
If you could learn any skill overnight that would have a huge impact on your business and personal growth, what would it be?
The first one that pops into my head is language. And I mean any kind of language - body language, spoken languages, computer code. It’s all about how we communicate. If I can understand languages I can better understand what’s going on around me.
And then build better relationships.
It’s the core human driver. It all comes back to building relationships. It comes back to communication.
You said a while ago that you’re not good with social media. Can you share some practical tips on how to grow a company without using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram?
I’ve only just started doing it - seeing what I’m capable of and how far I can push myself before I go out into the world with something. That’s what growth has been for me. I’ve had more people wanting to help me in the last month than at any other period in time before. It’s all about these events that are in London, just networking and sharing your ideas and not being too precious about them. It’s at a point now where I need people to make it work. So for me it’s about getting out there in the real world and finding people, getting their feedback, sharing ideas. That will help, maybe it won’t grow sales, but you need those people around you.
What’s a challenge you’re facing in business and what steps do you take to overcome it?
Finding a co-founder is really hard. I think you can feel it. It’s just seeing it as the whole core of this conversation. It’s a relationship. When you click with that person you can probably work together, you don’t piss each other off too much because you’re on the same page.
So finding that click. Hopefully, if you are a good founder, that’s the type of people you attract to you and you’re attracted to anyway. Think of your group of friends, they probably all have some common underpinnings that attract you to them. I guess for business it’s the same.
Finding it is hard, because you want to find someone who gets what you’re doing and has a complementary skill set, which means they’re fundamentally not going to be the same person as you. You need a complementary skill set, but be on the same page. You need someone who gets you. And when you get those things, that’s a really good, strong one.
Let’s have some fun (I stole this one from Tim Ferriss). If you could put a billboard anywhere, where would you put it and what would it say?
It would say ‘smile more’. It underpins everything. That’s what I’m thinking about right now if I think of business. Can’t we just have a bit more fun with it? Why do we have to wear a suit, a tie, and be in a corporate building? We can put music on, we can have fun. It’s just smile more. Really simple, fun. People get it. Where would I put it? It’s a hard one. Anywhere.
I don’t mean to answer for you, but maybe what you just said is the answer - anywhere. It comes back to the whole point of it.
I actually have an illustration of a double decker bus and it’s got ‘smile more’ on it. When I did it I thought if you’re in the car in the middle of London, all you ever see on the side of a bus is ‘buy our hand cream’ or whatever it is. So imagine you see a sign that just says ‘smile more’ and maybe has a funny little drawing.
High risk, high reward. What comes to mind?
Actually, it’s a total blank. Because I don’t really see it as a risk, I’m gonna do it anyway. I don’t see any risk in it. I just don’t. Cause what are you risking? There’s no risk. And the reward is to give it a go and see what happens. I don’t see startups or anything as a risk, because we can all go and get jobs. If there is a risk, it’s that you go ‘shit, should have done that idea I had 20 years ago’. That’s way more risky than trying.
I’ve recently heard someone talk about two different ways of looking at our own life. Do you mostly live life in the first person, or do you sometimes see yourself from the outside like someone else looking at you (third person point of view)?
For me it depends on where I am and what the situation is. Right now I feel very much in the first person because you’re asking me things and I have to go inside myself to answer. But sometimes I can actually see my mind, see myself sitting over there on the bike watching what’s going on. When I have that much clarity it can really make me a little bit scared. You know what’s going on, you’re outside of yourself and you’re watching the situation. It’s awareness.
I think that's powerful. Awareness is powerful, it helps us visualise and create - friendships, businesses, fun stories.
Thanks for being so aware, honest, open and truthful, Jesse!
For issue one we’re looking for more people and businesses who are aware of creating positive change. People who do good. Good that goes beyond just business, but has a real, lasting impact on the world, drives global change, and encourages sustainability, social and environmental growth. Know someone? Let us know.