Young fashion entrepreneur Shahed Serajuddin blends art and business to create his new streetwear brand Moss
by Grace Bello photography Mike Vorrasi
“Art in and of itself as something that’s transformative? Those days are over,” says Moss founder Shahed Serajuddin, 26. “If you’re going to have an impact, it’s through entrepreneurship.”
Serajuddin, who calls himself a business artist, created the streetwear brand Moss in November 2011. Back when he was in college, he and his friends from Stuyvesant High School had created a T-shirt brand called Cake. And right before founding Moss, he co-created a tech company called YouAre.TV, an interactive platform that allows people to stream onto live television from their webcams. “We ended up raising a lot of money—over a million dollars from investors like Peter Thiel and FirstMark Capital and things like that.”
"I said, ‘You know what? Stores, customers, everyone? The spring style is...T-shirts! It’s simple T-shirts only.’...They rolled with it."
But unlike the typical serial entrepreneur, or even the typical streetwear clothing founder, he’s influenced by everything from Helmut Newton to 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor to skate culture.
Serajuddin grew up in Flushing, Queens. His parents are Bangladeshi immigrants. “To them, of course, the pinnacle of what you can do is to be in medicine,” he says. However, he and his American-born siblings had other ideas. “My older brother used to hang out with a lot of the Supreme [skate] crews. He’s 10 years older, so he used to come home with some of his friends and I used to see a lot of the old T-shirts. I was always kind of fascinated with that [culture] at a young age.”
Back when he and his high school friends were working on Cake, his parents were unimpressed with his creative projects. “It would upset them. I used to have boxes of thousands of T-shirts in my basement, garage and stuff. ‘What are you doing with your life?’ and all this crap.” But as his tech projects grew in scope and ambition, his concerned parents began to back off. “I do get things like, ‘Well, at a certain point, you should think about going back to school!’ but they’ve come to accept it."
Now he lives and works in a cozy studio in Chinatown where one can see his transition from skate culture kid to budding serial entrepreneur. Amidst his black and white prints from his days back at SUNY Binghamton—scenes of wasted, carefree youth at parties and dive bars—and an entire shelf adorned with Moss-branded 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, are meeting-ready blazers and art books on Helmut Newton and van Gogh.
But what makes Serajuddin a great business artist is his ability to recover after a tackle: about six months ago, things at Moss came to a crashing halt due to cybercrime. “I had been doing some business with some manufacturers in Pakistan. Long story short, hackers from Malaysia had intercepted our communication and had started impersonating the manufacturer,” explains Serajuddin. “We would have emails be deleted back and forth, but we wouldn’t think much of it. And they ended up stealing a lot of money.”
This was a crucial point. “I saw that season as an opportunity to get where I wanted to, to take a significant step up. But then everything went pretty crazy as a result of that. I ended up losing a little over $50,000,” which meant he was unable to fulfill retailers’ orders for Moss goods. He knew he had to choose whether to tell his distributors about the financial hit, and if he wanted to continue with the brand. “A few retailers knew,” he says, but rather than disrupt Moss’s momentum, he decided to pivot.
"I said, ‘You know what? Stores, customers, everyone? The spring style is...T-shirts! It’s simple T-shirts only.’ So I made these T-shirts like, ‘Moss Back to Basics Crew.’ Simple, made in New York, single-color, that’s the style. People were like, ‘Oh, interesting! I like that idea!’ They rolled with it. It ended up working." To announce the T-shirt line, he was able to get Diplo to appear in Moss’s lookbook, which catapulted the brand. Now he’s looking forward to debuting a new season of streetwear offerings, particularly his varsity jacket designs, at upcoming trade shows.
Serajuddin is a particular kind of creative entrepreneur, the kind who references Andy Warhol’s philosophy: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Serajuddin says, “I feel like there are opportunities to be creative on the business side.” Gesturing toward his art books, he continues, “I think I can take a look at what’s been done, but I can try to figure out how to approach that differently.”