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This Former Scientist Turned Fashion Designer Is Reshaping How Women Dress For Work

People

For Aja Singer, fashion and art were always a big part of her life. She attributes Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney as major inspirations for her, and also recalls childhood memories of art museum visits with her parents, taking drawing classes and making a dress for her school dance with her grandmother. But when it came to furthering her education, she decided to pursue a degree in Anatomy and Cell Biology from McGill University in Montreal. Then, upon graduating from McGill, with a desire to work in the fashion industry still lingering, she decided to apply to Parsons School of Design in New York. "At the end of that [first] degree, I thought I really needed to give [fashion] a try and see if I could make it work. I applied only to Parsons and I thought 'If I get in; I'll pursue it'" says the designer. Well, as fate would have it, Aja got into Parsons and moved to New York to make her career in fashion work.


Aja Singer Courtesy of Of Mercer

Fast-forward eight years, and Singer has indeed made the "fashion thing" work for her. After interning in the design studios at Carolina Herrera and Zac Posen and establishing Alex & Eli – a contemporary womenswear brand that she co-founded following her graduation from Parson's – Singer is now the head designer for Of Mercer, a New York-based women's workwear fashion brand, a position she is passionate about.

The designer – who has been with the brand since before their launch in 2013 – describes the Of Mercer woman as a professional woman in her mid 20's to mid 30's who has a professional job in finance, consulting or law and works in a larger city, but also lives a full, dynamic life and values her time with friends and family. "I make sure that the clothes that I design carry through all of her life and all of these other elements going on in her life so she doesn't have to worry about changing her outfit."

Of Mercer is designed and produced in New York City and sold exclusively on their website and at their store in NYC's Flatiron neighborhood. Most of the brand's clients live and work in New York City. According to Singer, the ability to design, produce and predominately sell in NYC makes it easier for her to carry out her design mission since she is able to build face-to-face relationships with customers and receive constant feedback on her designs. "I think during the design process, it's so beneficial to me to be surrounded by all of my potential customers, how they're living, [and] then, in terms of actually making things in the city, it allows me to be very hands-on and make sure the quality is there," Singer says.

At Of Mercer, Singer creates precise, well-fitting designs at an obtainable price point (dresses average $160) and a wide range of sizes (hello, inclusivity!). Singer designs two new pieces a month that are produced and added to the brand's evergreen collection on the site. The designs are later offered in different colors and variations. Having spent almost all her career working with this very specific area of fashion, Singer credits her experience interning at Zac Posen as the cause of her devotion to creating tailored clothing. "At Zac Posen, I was working directly with one of the pattern makers there and saw how the pattern making and draping could be combined, that peaked my interest and set me off on this tailoring path," says the designer.

Bedford Dress Courtesy of Of Mercer

As a young female who decided to go for it in the fierce and ever-changing fashion industry, Aja encourages any aspiring fashion designer to never stop learning and exploring. "Getting inspiration from new places – especially with all of the innovations happening right now on the business side of it, or fashion tech, fabric innovations that are going on – keep your eyes open and keep exploring" she notes.

The Quick 10

1. What app do you use the most?

Spotify.

2. Briefly, describe your morning routine.

7:30 AM meditate and yoga (on a good day).

9:00 AM pick up latte, check email and scroll through Instagram on the train

9:30AM at my desk

3. Name a business mogul you admire.

Natalie Massenet.

4.What product do you wish you had invented?

The iPhone.

5. What is your spirit animal?

A panther, the Cartier kind.

6. What is your life motto?

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” - Oscar Wilde.

7. Name your favorite work day snack.

Whatever is in the office… usually some type of chocolate. If there’s mint involved I’m extra happy.

8. Every business/entrepreneur (you pick one, then fill in the blank) must be _______________ to be successful. (entrepreneur)

The right kind of crazy.

9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

Morocco.

10. Desert Island. Three things, go.

My sister. All the music. Sketchpad (and I would craft a pencil from island objects).

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Self

How To Treat Yourself Like A Queen

Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!


I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.

The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.

Reflecting On Myself

Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.

This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.

Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!

1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.

This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!

2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.

Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.

3.) Appreciate how far you have come!

I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.

4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be

If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!

This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.