Zak Profera has lived many lives. He grew up in the music industry watching his mother work at the now-defunct Hits magazine, studied photography and then conceptual art at the San Francisco Art Institute but left right before graduation, worked in data entry at Sony Music before the streaming revolution, took a shot at rug design and even dabbled in copywriting for One Kings Lane—all before he turned 30.
Throughout a busy early career, Profera nurtured a dream: Going all-in on his own business. It wasn’t until he was laid off from One Kings Lane that he finally took that leap and started textile brand Zak+Fox. “You start to realize the potential of things, and you start to see what’s possible and dream a bit,” Profera tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “I have high hopes, but I’m pretty down to earth and realistic when it comes to what’s possible, and what I believe is possible. ... And here we are now, 10 years later.”
Named for Profera and his beloved Shiba Inu, Shinji, Zak+Fox started out with 10 “eclectic and worldly” designs, all printed on linen. In the early days of the company, Zak+Fox joined the New York showroom Studio Four, but Profera soon decided to pull out of the showroom and sell Zak+Fox on his own. Although he had limited experience with textiles when he began his company, he looks back on that as a strength.
“I’m really grateful I was so naive, because I can be an anxious person,” says Profera. “If I have a lot of fear looming above me, or I have a lot of people telling me all the things that can go wrong, it’s going to linger. So not really [knowing] anything was great, because it allowed me not to be afraid.”
Despite the influx of digital options dividing the industry, Profera lands firmly on the side of in-person experiences. The ability to feel the soft fabric, admire a wallpaper’s details up close and physically immerse yourself in a thoughtfully decorated showroom makes way for a personal connection that a virtual experience cannot offer. That connection, says Profera, can become diluted by a screen. “We work in a really tactile industry; there’s no way around it,” he says. “We got much more comfortable and nimble with all the digital resources that we had at our fingertips in the past couple of years, but we make a tangible physical product, so you need to experience it in person.”
While the pandemic emphasized the benefits of an in-person experience, it also offered Profera time to reflect on his company’s priorities. He reassessed some of Zak+Fox’s business practices and decided that Zak+Fox would stop selling to consumers; instead of balancing both trade and retail sales, the brand would focus solely on the trade. “Our audience is the trade, and we want to support that,” says Profera. “I like how niche it is; I like how community-oriented it is. It’s nice to be in a little bubble sometimes.”
Elsewhere in the episode, Profera shares plans to build a new Zak+Fox studio, teases an expansion of the company’s product categories to include rugs and throw pillows, and explains what sets Zak+Fox apart from the competition. “I think people come to us because things feel layered and rich and storied,” says Profera. “We do a mix of more artisan-made stuff, and we definitely work with more commercial weavers and printers, but it doesn’t diminish the heart and soul that goes into both. I think people come to us for texture and nuance and the insane detail that I put into things.”
Homepage image: Zak Profera | Courtesy of Zak Profera