In conversation with

Aja Singer

Brand Strategist

aja singer

Introduction

Introduction

We first heard of Aja through her newsletter on strategy, startups and branding, For The Love, where she explores everything from Gen Z marketing to the energy and focus you need to really nurture a community.

Formerly the founding creative director of women’s “workwear” brand, Of Mercer for six years, Aja has taken a step back and is now a brand strategist who consults on projects for ambitious mission-driven brands and founders.

We spoke to Aja about the brands she’s keeping an eye out for, whether brands really need ‘community’ and what the new generation of customers are looking for.

Question and Answer

What prompted you to start your newsletter, For The Love?

At Of Mercer, my mindset was very much ‘head down, do my job and keep very, very focused’. I didn’t have a lot of time to connect with other people or do any deep thinking about what was happening in the industry, what I was influenced by, working on and thinking about. So that’s part of the reason why I started the newsletter – to keep myself accountable and explore some of these ideas that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Do you remember the first brand that you ever fell in love with?

In high school, fashion was so influential for me. I fell in love with Alexander McQueen and the over the top, incredibly creative world that he invented. And that in the process of creating this world, he still managed to make things that were very wearable and useful to people. I loved that merging of imagination and usability.

Who are the most successful brand-world-builders for you?

Right now the leaders in that are brands like Apple and Tesla. They’re not necessarily imaginative worlds, but they have a very strong vision that they stick to and they understand what they stand for, who their customer is and what they want. And they have cult followings because of that.

“There is value in reiterating certain patterns that have been successful in the past. But the problem is that you're then tied to this other brand. There should be some evolution that is uniquely your own. You don't want to be the brand that's always the X version of Glossier.”

Should a brand always aim to stand out or break the mould? You see a lot of these brands that copy someone like Glossier and then actually do really well…

I think it’s important to have your own spin on it. There is value in reiterating certain patterns that have been successful in the past. But the problem is that you’re then tied to this other brand. There should be some evolution that is uniquely your own. You don’t want to be the brand that’s always the X version of Glossier.

Which brand has a really stand out tone of voice or one that you particularly love?

I really like AYR who do denim and basics. They have this very cheeky, irreverent, casual way of speaking that is very effective, and it just grabs your attention. Their email subject lines are always very funny.

Which three brands are you watching at the moment for what they're doing from a brand perspective?

A brand I heard about recently is Faculty – who focus on third wave masculinity. They’re starting with nail polish and have many other products in the works. It’s definitely a segment of the beauty market that has been completely neglected.

I recently spoke to the founder of a carbon negative vodka brand called Air Company who are creating ethanol from air and sunlight. And because ethanol is used in so many categories, they’re planning on making perfume and even working on making literal rocket fuel.

Another one I’ve written about a couple of times is Topicals who are very focused on normalising skin issues like eczema and other dermatological chronic conditions. Topicals approach their brand as a reminder that those issues aren’t anything to be ashamed of.

In your newsletter, you speak about the fact that everyone wants to talk about ‘community’. Do you think that every brand needs a community?

I don’t think every brand needs a community. For certain brands – especially mission-driven brands – it can be a very powerful way to further that mission and engage with an audience that wants to be active. But it requires a lot of energy and focus and constant management.

And what are some of your least favourite trends that you're seeing and branding at the moment?

I’m bored of the overly clean, tasteful aesthetic, where everything is grey or beige, and has a perfectly curated website, imagery and even product. I’m really drawn to experimentation and pushing the boundaries a little bit. In my newsletter I’ve mentioned that a lot of those brands are targeting Gen Z. You’ll see it in Tik Tok versus Instagram, where the newer, younger generation wants things that are just a little messier, more honest and real and not overly polished or trying too hard.

Aja's Storylist

Books

  1. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
  2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Newsletters

  1. Emily Singer's Chips + Dips
  2. Sari Azout's Check Your Pulse
  3. Sarah Noeckel's Femstreet
  4. Jenny Gyllander's Thingtesting
  5. Charlie O'Donnell's This is Going to be Big

Magazines

  1. New York Magazine

Podcasts

  1. Pod Save America
  2. Lovett Or Leave It
  3. NPR's Blindspot: The Road To 9/11

Digital Platforms

  1. Twitter
  2. The New York Times
  3. Instagram
  4. Atlas Obscura
  5. Sight Unseen
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