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Women Who Launch: Aila Morin


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By Lucy Cocoran on 13th June 2024

Meet the founding Chief Marketing Officer behind Merit, the beauty brand with a penchant for simplicity.

The makeup industry can feel like a glittery, pigmented minefield. For anyone wondering when it all got so complicated, the solution lies in Merit. The brand's pared-back approach to beauty has hit the refresh button on this highly saturated sector.

Aila Morin was pivotal in its creation, beginning as Senior Vice President of Brand, Growth, and Innovation, before receiving a promotion to CMO in 2023.

Morin's resume reads as one achievement after another. At age 23, she was running her own marketing team. In 2016, she began working at Mejuri as the first management level marketing hire. By the time she left the company, she has risen the ranks to Director of Marketing and GTM, launching the brand in over 30 countries.

Her impressive career caught the attention of serial entrepreneur, Katherine Power, best known for co-founding of Who What Wear and Avaline).

In 2019, Morin applied her talents to Power's vision — simplifying the wide world of makeup for the busy woman. In just two years years, this vision was realised in Merit.

With two powerhouses at the helm, the brand's success was inevitable, but none of it has been down to luck. Every measured decision has stood Merit in good stead to becoming one of the biggest names in beauty.

Below, read our fascinating conversation with Morin as she discusses the importance of failure, the power of storytelling and what's next for Merit.

You were pivotal in shaping Merit into what it is today. How would you summarise its ethos? 

My whole career has been creating brands from $0 and scaling it into a full size business, so I have always created challenger brands. Merit is the antidote to the oversaturated world of beauty. When it came to shaping Merit, it was inspired by my own lived experience as a consumer. I worked at a beauty counter for about eight years through high school and university. It was incredible training to watch people shop, and the one thing people would say to me was, ‘oh, I don't know anything about makeup, but I need X.’ 

It’s really interesting that you have an entire industry built to serve a consumer and yet the majority don't feel like it's speaking to them. That was the insight that led to the ethos of Merit. It was 1) how do we make it make sense for the customer and 2) how do we make it impossible to mess up? At the time we were launching Merit, a lot of brands were being launched by makeup artists and it became clear that it wasn't being made for us as consumers. So, when we were creating this challenger brand, we knew it had to provide a different service and fix a problem. The main thing Merit has given our consumers is time, making it easy to get ready in five minutes. This became the ethos of the brand. 

The brand was conceptualised during COVID - what was the creation process like and what kind of challenges and opportunities did this present?  

I think in hindsight it was fantastic as it gave us time to conceptualise the brand story. I signed my contract in early 2020 and had intended to move from Canada to the US, but then the borders closed and makeup sales fell 40%. I was sitting there in front of this very early stage deck thinking, ‘well, this is now a totally different time and totally different industry.’ 

But, I think it accelerated a behavioural shift. There was a very large shift to e-commerce during COVID, with people ordering things online. We saw this lift in skincare and self-care as a concept, and people were no longer using uncomfortable products. Things like full coverage foundations, mattifying powders and liquid lipsticks all disappeared from our routines very quickly. We abandoned the things that didn't actually serve us and turned to products that looked really glowy and gorgeous on camera, but also had benefits outside of just makeup. All of those pieces came together into Merit which was intended to be a minimalist beauty brand with key messaging around a five minute morning routine. 

In a way, having a challenging time makes it easier to create a disruptive brand because the status quo has already stopped and the customer is looking for something new. It was a breeding ground to make something that felt really apt and relevant to the consumer. 

Of course, there was still very unique challenges. Photoshoots were incredibly difficult and we were doing casting based off photos and shoots on Zoom. I also couldn’t come into the US, so for product development we were shipping everything back and forth and things took much longer. But all of those process hindrances resulted in having more time between each decision, which meant that we could be a lot more intentional. It also gave me a lot of time to sit and focus on how to make it feel different. 

What has it been like working alongside Katherine Power? What lessons have you learned from her? 

She's been an incredible partner from the beginning. We started talking in mid 2019 about launching a beauty brand, and I think her real superpower is this ability to see whitespace when other people don't. At that time she had this clear vision of a makeup brand for mature, busy women. That was the idea. 

At first, I wasn’t sure if it was that different, as it felt like every celebrity and makeup artist was launching something new at the time. But then, I was standing in a beauty store a few months later and I saw this suitcase full of eyeshadow. It had 150 shades and a brush set with 50 brushes in it, and I thought, who is this for? It was so intimidating. I called Katherine back and told her that I saw the vision and wanted to do it. She's always had a gift of taking a pain point and extrapolating it into a business and Merit is a personification of that. 

What I really appreciate from her is this incredible level of trust. We have a very close partnership but also a very clear understanding of what we both do and a high level of trust which works really well. Today we continue to work closely on the brand and how it comes together. I have learned a lot about trusting my gut from her, and I really appreciate that.

What is your attitude towards failure?

It's not for everybody. I really couldn't tell you why on earth I worked at like five startups that failed and decided to keep doing it. I always joke that being someone who builds things from nothing is a very specific choice. I think it really works for some personalities but it doesn’t work for most people. My opinion has always been that failure is a really healthy part of building a business. I think you have to be durable to the fact that most things aren't going to go right in the early days, but it really pushed me to focus on the things that matter. Ask questions like, is there a very clear consumer for this? Am I solving a really clear problem? Is there a way to scale the business that makes sense? Those decisions need to be made before you launch the business because you can't figure them out later. 

At Merit, we fail all the time. 80% of the marketing spend is dedicated to things that we know will work and are going to feed our bottom line, and 20% is dedicated to trying things that should fail most of the time. If you're not trying things outside of the box then you're doing the same thing over and over. I think the biggest risk in startups is complacency or becoming reliant on what works at a certain stage and expecting that to continue into the next stage. Every stage of the business requires a different viewpoint and a different skill set. You need to be really comfortable with being uncomfortable and have a growth mindset. 

From day one your career has seen you step into very big roles. What advice would you give to women who also want to succeed in your space? 

I think the first thing is to decide why you want to succeed in this space. I often hear from people who idealise fast growth work, but it's not necessarily what fulfils them. I think our careers should be less of a label and more about what makes us feel buzzy and creative. Once you find that feeling, keep chasing things that allow you to feel it. When you're in alignment with that, you're much more likely to have a role where you're going to do incredible work because it feels very intuitive to you. 

It’s interesting to hear you talk about imposter syndrome, is that something you struggle with? 

Careers are a zigzag. I don't know anyone whose career has been this gorgeous linear line. It’s important to remember that there's no end point that feels like you figured it out. I always thought that everyone had this more constructed plan and I think that's one of the biggest fallacies.

I can tell you that when I became CMO at 30, which is something I'd dreamt up through my 20s, I didn’t feel any different. The only difference was that I felt an even higher level of imposter syndrome and the work remained the same. Even in a role like mine at this point, I still have questions every single day. That doesn't go away.

It’s no doubt very varied, but what does a typical day look like for you?

The way I structure my time is actually relatively consistent. I get up very early for LA, around 5am so I can have a morning routine. It's incredibly important for me to have time to eat breakfast, walk the dog, look at my agenda and take time for myself. 

I usually start my work day around 7:30/8am because half the team is in LA and the other half is in New York. I'm looking at upcoming shoots and campaigns, what's coming out in 2025/2026 and which places we want to take the brand. What can we improve? What can we diversify?

What I like about my time is that there's absolutely no consistency. I love variation and thrive on that. For most people, I don't think that's actually how they would want their weeks ago, but I find that by basing all of that variety on a very consistent morning I'm actually able to manage everything pretty holistically. 

I usually wrap up my work day by 4/5pm and then I exercise in the evenings to decompress. I like to be outside hiking or doing pilates, and afterwards I have personal time. I work pretty hard to keep my work day within my work day, even though I'm thinking about things all the time. I try to have really clear boundaries of when the day begins and when it ends. I think COVID in particular engendered this culture of always being on your laptop, which I find hinders creativity. 

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

I would say my proudest achievement with both Mejuri and Merit is creating brands that mean something to people. We just want to feel like ourselves every day, so I hope people feel both seen and heard in the form of a brand.

What do you enjoy most about working at Merit? 

Storytelling has become a lost art in marketing. We’ve really avoided the constant cycle of newness and launching new products every 6-8 weeks. Instead, we've focused on telling high-quality stories and creating products that actually serve the consumer which is so valuable. I love when we launch something and I see a video three years later of someone just discovering it, and knowing that it is still relevant and timeless because we invested that creative energy into creating something that is worthy of being used 10 years on. 

The multigenerational aspect has been one of the most fulfilling parts as well. We have more people on our website that are over the age of 55 than under the age of 20. If you look at patterns in beauty, it’s incredibly rare to have more Baby Boomers than Gen Z. I think it speaks to the idea of the brand solving a universal need. 

Moving forward, how would you like Merit to evolve ?

I think the single biggest mistake brands make is abandoning their North Star. We’re going to stay focused and have blinders on to what everybody else is doing. I always make the team laugh because we never look at how other beauty brands are approaching problems. We focus specifically on how we are making our consumers’ lives easier. We’ll also keep doing things that are meaningful and putting out intentional products. That's all we need to keep doing. I think evolution feels natural, the hard part is staying true to why you started in the first place.

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