Newlyweds Kristen Forrester and Tony Dominguez were honeymooning in Africa when their camera went missing. A young African boy had swiped it, but thought better of it and returned it to the couple: the boy was Zende, a charming lad who invited Kristen and Tony to visit him at the orphanage where he was living. Zende had lost both parents and a brother to the AIDS epidemic; he paid his way by caring for the younger orphans, but it bothered Kristen and Tony when they learned that Zende would likely end up on the street when he became too old to continue living at the orphanage. The Dominguezes returned to Los Angeles, but kept thinking about Zende; Tony was HIV-positive and didn't want to risk having a biological child with Kristen, so they travelled back to Africa to adopt Zende. Eventually, Kristen, Tony, and Zende left Los Angeles and moved to Miami, where Zende was raised.
In 2015, Zende returned to Los Angeles as an adult. Even though Zende could have risen through the ranks of Forrester Creations, the family's fashion business, on the merits of his family connections, Zende decided he wanted to start at the bottom and applied for the company's internship program, where he met Nicole Avant, a fellow applicant. After Zende and Nicole were hired, they began to bond as they worked together. When Kristen's niece, Aly Forrester, became emotionally unstable, Zende told the Forrester's younger generation how Aly had developed mental problems following the violent death of her mother, Darla Einstein, whom Zende had met as a child.
Zende developed a friendship with his half-cousin, Thomas Forrester, and continued spending time with Nicole, who shared her dreams with him; Forrester deejay Othello even lowered the lights and put on a slow jam so Zende and Nicole could dance on the runway. It threw Zende when he learned Thomas had kissed Nicole, but it finally prompted Zende to ask Nicole out on a proper date. Just as Zende and Nicole began exploring a relationship, Zende found out that Nicole was considering being a surrogate mother for his adoptive half-uncle, Rick Forrester, and Nicole's transgender sister, Maya Avant Forrester, as the newlyweds couldn't have a baby the conventional way. Zende understood Nicole's desire to help Maya, but reminded Nicole that taking time out to have Maya's baby would interfere with their burgeoning romance.
After Nicole ultimately decided to become Rick and Maya's surrogate, Zende vowed he'd stand by Nicole and admitted that he loved her. However, Zende and Nicole received a surprise when Nicole's parents, Julius and Vivienne Avant, arrived unexpectedly and announced they were leaving their Illinois hometown to move to Los Angeles. Julius, who had difficulty accepting his transgender daughter, approached Zende and tried to get him to talk Nicole out of carrying Maya's baby.