Getting to Know You: Moeez of Comb
At 26 years old, Moeez has already cofounded a company, developed an upcoming photography career and collaborated with some high-profile names in the influencer industry. A little more than 2 years ago, he was couch-surfing with family friends, after quitting his job in New York for a new adventure in London. Here, he shares some secrets from behind the lens and more about his journey from a sports engineering graduate to a fashion app founder.
I first met Mo at London Fashion Week last year. Upon leaving a show, I was swarmed by cameras and flashing lights, backed up against a wall by a pack of hungry photo opportunists. Being my first proper Fashion Week, I was terrified and unprepared for such a moment. I panicked at being in the middle of such a mob without having perfected my ultimate Tyra Banks smize (it was more a bambi-in-headlights look), so the minute I saw an opening, I made a run for it. Mo was smart. Whether he noticed my fear or not, he waited until I was away from the crowd and asked me so politely if he could take my photo. Those are still some of my favourite shots to date and as a result, we’ve collaborated several times since. That’s the thing about Mo, he’s so laid-back that he makes every shoot easy and relaxing. By chatting to him some more, I’ve learned that there’s so much more to this millennial lad than meets the eye. So I decided to dig a little deeper to find, what to me, is truly an inspirational story:
Journey to Becoming a Founder...
More than 2 years ago, Liam, my current business partner, was in England running his own social media consultancy business. Over time, he noticed trends in the market and called me with the idea for Comb. We deliberated for 2 months and finally agreed to do something about it, so I quit my job and moved back to Loughborough from New York. One of Liam’s friends was a letting agents and because we didn’t have any money, we offered to run the social media for his business in exchange for his cheapest house. We ended up living in what was like a crack den and worked out of a shipping container, which our new “landlord” had above his office. There was no heating or bathroom, just 2 desks for us to work from. We were there for 8 months and during that time we managed to start up Comb with our own money. Once we got a little bit of investment we quickly moved to London. Liam lived in a gym in East London for roughly 4 months. He would sleep on a mattress in the physio’s room, after the gym closed at night, and had to leave before they opened in the morning. I was couch-surfing with family friends. After a while, we were able to raise more money and things got better from there. The whole experience shaped Comb because we had to learn how to be prudent with our budget, whilst worrying about 50 other things.
…is a free fashion app. The initial hook was that you could take a picture of a look, find something similar and buy it through the app. For example, everyone wants Beyonce’s dress but they might not be able to afford it. Through an image search, you could find a similar and affordable alternative. It’s also very social. Everyone has a profile, just like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. You can log on and follow other blogger or brand accounts, making your feed very personalised to you. If you save something, because I follow your account, I’ll see it on my feed. As you use the app more, it gets to know you better and shows you items that are tailored to your taste. We have 2 million products on the app, ranging from high street to high end and it’s only available on iPhone at the moment.
I had never tried my hand at photography before Comb. Everything I learned, I learned from my friend Mohammed, who is the first person Comb ever hired and was also just starting out in photography. We got the idea to use streetstyle photos as content on the app after we noticed that they were receiving a lot of online engagement. I went with Mohammed to the Topshop show in September 2015, to point out prominent bloggers and celebs but with so many people there, he struggled to cover everybody alone. So he pulled out his old camera, fixed the settings and gave it to me, telling me to point and shoot. That’s the good thing about Fashion Week, anyone can just go and shoot and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I watched loads of tutorials on Youtube and shadowed Mohammed on every shoot. It got to the point where I was shooting everyday for 6 months, so it’s just about practice.
There are things I know today that I didn’t know last week so I am still constantly learning. I currently shoot on a Canon 5D Mark 3. It’s been around for a few years but it’s more about the lens because even with a great camera body, if you have a bad lens the pictures won’t be good. I use an 85 mm 1.2, which is good for portrait and detail shots because it blurs the background and focuses on the detail. I tend to shoot manual, which means adjusting the camera settings as you go. I have a strict rule against photoshopping skin and body parts to look slimmer because I really don’t like editing of that sort. However, if there’s a nice detail in the photo I might bring out the colour a bit more.
Working with Bloggers...
I have massive respect for bloggers because it takes an incredible amount of time, determination and creativity to do every job at once! Collaborating with them, you get to see how hard they work up close. We work with bloggers in more of an exchange of services manner and that’s how photography ties into what we do. We’ll help you take photos, even support the design of a media pack or website in exchange for promotion and feedback. For us, feedback is worth more than payment. As a result, we’ve been able to build a reputation simply by bloggers tagging us online. It’s interesting because you get different types of bloggers with their own style. Some want more editorial content so we have to be more creative with how we shoot them. Others write more, so only need 2 or 3 images from us. Sometimes bloggers want to work with us but only use our photos on their blogs because their iPhone photos are more relatable and do better on Instagram, yet the brands they work with want higher quality photos. Regardless, blogging is such a fast-paced industry so as a photographer, you need to get the content to them quickly.In the last year, I’ve shot over 200 bloggers, some really big names and so people assume that’s all we work with.
In reality, we work with anyone who is really committed to their blog and has a loyal following. A lot of people mistake following size for how influential people are, which is not the case.
For us, it doesn’t matter how big or small you are. If you were interested in working with us, just DM or email us. We’re really laid-back guys and I’ve even become close friends with a couple of bloggers now.
The Truth About Fashion Week...
There are 3 types of photographers at Fashion Week. There’s streetstyle photographers, like me. There’s paparazzi, who only care about getting a good face shot of a celebrity like Kate Moss. They use flash which is so annoying because it ruins your shot! Then there are fan girls and boys who know that Willow Smith is going to turn up to this show and want to get a picture. Topshop was the first show I did and someone pushed me into the way of traffic to get a shot of Alexa Chung. I didn’t even know who she was at the time so I was confused. Pop stars are obviously huge and when they turn up, it’s a circus. I’ve been doing it for nearly 2 years but I can’t imagine what the people who have been doing it for 5 years think. We always do London obviously, and now Paris and New York too. I prefer taking candid shots at weird angles and I rarely like people looking directly into the camera, unless it’s a model. I also like to use the crowd. I’m not that tall so I’ll use the people in front of me to add more of a blurry effect. Because there are so many different photographers there, you really have to differentiate your style. It’s also good to know names at shows, especially those that wouldn’t think you’d know them like editors or bloggers. They are then more likely to give you time of day. Recently, IMG Fashion found me on Instagram through a hashtag (lesson guys - always hashtag!). They DMed me off their main fashion week account and I got to shoot at Berlin for them, as well as New York Fashion Week. That was big because I was able to get backstage shots of models like Gigi Hadid. It’s mutually beneficial for Comb too - any photography I do is always for the company as well.
Advice to Others...
There’s never a right time to start anything. In the beginning, we didn’t know what it really meant to run a business but things are always easier than they seem and there are so many resources available to all of us now. It’s really important to make use of your network. I’ve reached out to people I haven’t spoken to in 10 years but you have to be shameless if you really want something. From a business point of view, don’t try to do everything yourself. As in all startups you have to share roles, so Liam deals more with the design of the app and most of the graphic interface, while I handle the photography and finances. We know we are not bloggers, that’s why we consult bloggers. We don’t know tech/coding, so we brought someone in to help us with that.
You have to be able to recognise what you can and can’t do, in terms of raw skills. Whatever you can’t do, bring someone else in to help you with.
We want to make fashion accessible to everyone! We want Comb to be a place that people go to for inspiration and discovery, a place that you can use for shopping both popular and unknown brands. We raised a nice sum of money last year and now we are building a monetised side of the app. We have a feature called The Shop, whereby if you save something on there, it will also appear in your blog’s shop section instantaneously. So if anyone buys anything, you get all the commission. Overall, we just want to continue to grow our user base.
Photographers...Adam Katz from Le 21éme, was the one who really inspired me during this journey because he focuses more on the clothes and creating a story. There’s also a guy called Tyler Joe, whom my style is similar to. Lastly I love the vibe of Collage Vintage 2.
Locations to shoot...For streetstyle backdrops, Paris is the best. In terms of backgrounds, I love anything apart from red brick or too much greenery. Honestly, what I love about photography is that you can find any wall and make it work. It’s just about how you look at it.
Designers...From a photography point of view, I really like what Céline have done recently. Balenciaga and Chloé, just because they are everywhere. Lastly, Vetements because they have a really a fun approach to their fashion.