'LOVE what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life' is often bandied around when the subject of careers is brought up. The perfect example of this is photographer Matthew Comer and his marketing wiz business partner Lee Barber.
Bouncing off each other like brothers (the kind that like each other) their excitement and enthusiasm for their work is clear, even if Matthew’s attempt at a map of America using a napkin and broken wooden stirrers is not.
“That’s why Vogue Fashion Night Out came to Manchester, it’s not about London anymore.”
“We met through mutually bad times,” explains Comer. “We were both working freelance and it was getting to Christmas time back in 2010 and we just needed a job and to earn some money."
The COMER Collective was born: photographers, branders, marketeers, everything... ers.
Not ones to do things by halves, instead of hunting out a simple shop job or picking up shifts in a bar, Comer and Barber got themselves a nine month contract with an American government defence company, doing or making something or other, they're not allowed to tell us, “top drawer stuff,” smiles Comer. That narrows it down. Of course they could be making it up. But then they could be launching Skynet. Who knows?
When the Greater Manchester born lads first met, with Comer having spent time in Brooklyn and Barber in LA, they soon bonded. They’re so close in fact it's difficult to get a complete quote from one without the other jumping in to finish a sentence.
Las Vegas/New York: An early shoot
“New York Fashion Week in 2011 was when it really started taking hold,” butts in Barber. “We were taking photos for Macy’s and Anna Della Russo and when we went out in the evenings we used to take the camera with us and continue to take photos.”
“I used to be really bad for just dwelling on a shot but Lee got me out of that, he was like ‘we’ve got it let's go’,” interjects Comer.
They're excitable boys. Energetic, tangential, spunky if you will. Minutes pass discussing drunken babble over Josemeisters. That’s Jägermeister mixed with Jose Cuervo tequila. Hardcore stuff.
“So after fashion week we went back to work in government defence and had one month to build our business,” says Barber. Of the two, Barber is arguably the more serious, mindful, scheming, constantly looking for the next business move and venture.
Fast forward and after the success of New York Fashion Week in 2011, the boys are back in Manchester and finding their feet.
“We had to get an office,” says Comer, “We were working out of coffee shops and pubs until then. I remember being sat editing and some guy walked past and caught one of my wires on his foot and my hard drive smashed on the floor. Seven years of work gone. We got some back but we lost a lot. That was when we realised we needed to have our own space." The boys ended up in Northern Quarter (naturally), with an office next to that Almost Famous lot. Could barely get more hip this lot.
Fast forward to the present day and with campaigns with JD Sports and cult shoe brand Jeffrey Campbell under their belts, the duo are still grafting away, pursuing every venture they can. So when creatives such as the COMER Collective start making waves, surely it's a matter of time until a move to the Old Smoke beckons?
“Nah Manchester is where it’s at,” nods Comer, “That’s why Vogue Fashion Night Out came to Manchester, it’s not about London anymore. We were talking with Topshop’s Kate Phelan and she agreed it’s no longer about London.”
“When we first met it was all about America. But we had to cement ourselves and fell back in love with the city.”
Manchester boys at heart there’s no immediate danger of the city losing some of its homegrown talent. Now employing freelancers of their own and expanding all the time, did the boys just get lucky?
Lavish Alice campaign shot in California.
“You make your own luck,” says Barber, “And honestly I don’t think we’ve been that successful. We’re not in this for the free clothes and stuff and I think we get a lot of respect for that.”
So what’s the future got planned for these two and their new troop?
“We’re currently making plans for a coffee table book, and for establishing offices across the world. Manchester, Paris, New York, Tokyo and LA are on the cards.” Think big.
“There’s loads we want to do. If you think we’re doing well now then just wait, there are bigger things in the pipeline,” says Barber.
You don’t doubt him for a second.
These two are heading for the top with no sign of slowing. And the best thing about their determined climb? They plan on taking Manchester with them.
“There's nothing better than taking Manchester to America,” Comer says.
“We like taking smaller brands to America and shooting them over there for no extra cost, like Lavish Alice,” explains Barber. Lavish Alice, another online boutique based in Manchester, is quickly gathering momentum.
A possible side effect after working with COMER Collective?
“It makes them international,” says Barber.
Supply and Demand shoot in New York.
It’s this latest notion of shooting UK brands with a clear American style and backdrop that has worked so well for the two. A collaboration with JD Sports and their new line Supply and Demand was a recent success.
“They came back to us and said that we’ve built their brand. It’s a massive compliment," says Barber, "They’re the only company that gives us totally free rein and just leaves us to it. That first shoot we did quadrupled their projected sales.”
Although sales and profits appear secondary for these two, the passion for what they do is what shines through the most. “Everything goes into the business. We’ve made lots of friends, and we’d rather just hangout and enjoy our lives. We’ve always had a ‘yeah sure’ attitude and are definitely enjoying the experience.”
With four trips back to the States planned for 2014 alone, Manchester-based COMER Collective show no signs of stopping.
Follow COMER collective on Twitter: @matthewcomer
Or visit the website: www.matthew-comer.com