Our featured artist is Creative Director and Copywriter Ameena Meer. Meer’s strategic and conceptual work has launched high-impact brands and products with lasting influence. Her strength is expressing emotion that inspires action. As a writer, Meer knows intuitively that a good story changes minds. She believes the most effective communication is based on love for the consumer, respect for the brand and change for the good.
She has been a copywriter, thinker, conceptor and/or creative director for Avon, Calvin Klein, Coty, The Gap, Estee Lauder, Donna Karan, Federated Stores, Pzifer, L’Oreal, The Navajo Nation, Homes for the Homeless and Proctor & Gamble. Natural brands she has worked on include Jurlique, Under the Canopy, Kama Ayurveda, and 5S for Shiseido (based on 5 senses).
A conversation between Ameena Meer and Michelle Edelman
Ameena, we have a long history together. We are so excited to be re-united with you after so many years. We are also excited to have you as our featured artist!
To start, tell us a bit about yourself.
I had a great childhood. I was lucky enough to have grown up in the 70s when we had a lot of freedom – no cell phones, no social media – and I spent a lot of time riding horses off in the fields, reading voraciously and discovering new cities with friends with no one watching my every move. Though my parents are from India, my grandparents and eventually, my parents, were diplomats so we had a very international, multicultural, multireligious household. While I was raised as a Muslim, my father was a scientist (thus a rationalist) and my mother was always asking questions and exposing us to other faiths and people. I have family members across the racial, political and religious spectrum. I feel like I was always part of world where everyone had different perspectives but we all loved and respect each other so it was a very open place.
What inspired you to become a writer?
When I was 6, I was voted most likely to become the school librarian because I had read every book in our little school library! As soon as I could write, I did. I was obsessed with the idea of turning material experiences – taste, touch, scent, sounds – into words that could leap off the page and drag you into the story. My mother always encouraged a lot of reading so writing always came very easily to me.
You studied Literature at University of California Santa Cruz, where we first met. When did it first occur to you that this would be your path?
The problem with something that comes easily is that you don’t value it. So bizarrely, I got a combined Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing and Dance – because I was as interested in the physical body as in the intellectual one. I used to dance 6 hours a day and write for 1 or 2 and still get my work done. I was never going to be a great dancer but I loved being in my body in that way. Also, the dance major in Santa Cruz required you to study anatomy and physiology, which translated itself into my writing too.
How did you get your start in the copy writing side of your work?
It’s a funny story – I showed up in NYC as a desperately broke single mother with an 8-month old baby – and realized I would never be able to support us on a freelance writer’s salary. I got a friend with a moving van to drive me out to Bridgehampton where Neil Kraft interviewed me at the Candy Kitchen and gave me a job as his secretary. I was a horrible secretary but since I had a novel coming out, he asked me to try writing some copy. The rest is history but I really owe my start in copywriting and the ad industry to the people around at that time: Neil Kraft, Madonna Badger, Kim Vernon, Frank Way who all really supported me and helped me learn (the hard way) what worked and what didn’t.
You’re best known for copywriting, concepting and branding in the beauty and fragrance industry. What is your secret sauce?
One of the things I’ve learned in recent years is that I am very intuitive. I can often (if I get out of the way) feel what people need. So I am good at imagining what a fragrance consumer might want. Of course, the final outcome is not always my vision, but my other superpower is my writing. Writing for fragrance is very similar to writing poetry. I am good at capturing a moment which is what a fragrance is.
Your first published book, Bombay Talkie, was very successful. And, you just completed your second book, Fearless Healing, which is quite different in nature. Can you tell us about it?
Fearless Healing is less a piece of literature and more of a conversation. It’s a kind of “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting Cancer.” It’s meant to be loose and easy. Since I recovered from a very aggressive cancer, friends and friends of friends had always called asking for advice. Part of my recovery involved studying natural medicines and a number of modalities of energy work, along with hypnosis. I realized I had a lot of information to pass on. There are so many misconceptions about cancer, what it is, what you can do about it. And there’s so much shame and secrecy around it—people don’t talk about it. I believe that when something that is epidemic is so hidden and not understood, it becomes frightening and powerful. I really want to bring cancer into the open. I want everyone to know that they have choices. My goal with the book is to let every person with cancer feel empowered and know that there are A LOT of ways to heal it. Cancer isn’t death sentence.
How does your healing practice and work play into your commercial writing work?
I feel like the energy healing and nutrition and life coaching are the other side of the commercial work. On one side, I am touching and connecting with people on a very personal and intimate level. On the other side, I am reaching out and speaking to a much larger audience, but with a similar goal, I feel like I try and give my readers a sense that they are just where they need to be, that they are both comfortable with where they are but know that they have the power to be and do more. I believe that there is value in every experience and often, the physical feeds the spiritual. More and more, I try to work on products that fit with my personal values – for instance, working with the Navajo Nation, Homes for the Homeless, Weleda, Jurlique. But even something as simple as a scented candle can change the way you feel about yourself and your space and that is a good thing too.
Describe your work environment.
I need a lot of light and air. I used to work in a storefront with big windows that opened on to the street so I almost felt like I was working outside. Now I’m on a higher floor so I get sun and views, but I am also near the river so I sometimes take my laptop outside and work there.
You’ve already worked with the top brands. What is your dream project?
Honestly, working on a brand like Weleda is really a dream come true. It’s a brand that not only makes truly natural products that really feed your skin and your body but it also does so much good in the world – helping farmers and growers, strengthening small economies, protecting biodiversity and constantly shrinking their environmental foot print. The only thing that could improve it is larger resources (so I could work on it all the time) and if the offices were in Hawaii…
What do you bring to the table?
It’s like “Ameena and the brand, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” I swear if I love a brand, I marry it! I am totally emotionally and physically committed to it. I think about it all the time, I am living and breathing it. I am always trying to find ways to make it better at communicating with its audience.
What for you is a great client?
A great client is one who is open to trying different things on, thinking about things in different ways. The best clients are the ones who communicate. It’s wonderful if they know exactly what they want, but if they don’t, I love it when work can be collaborative. I like conversations and ideas going back and forth so there’s a flow – that makes magic.
Tell us something no-one knows about you.
Maybe I am the only one who thinks no one knows about these things but here goes. This is embarrassing.
- I don’t really like cats. They are sweet but I HATE being covered in fur. I stay away from cats because of that. Actually, I don’t like any animals shedding all over me.
- I work hard on being loving and mindful that everyone is moving at their own state of evolution, but I’m frustrated with our current administration. So it turns out that I am judgy.
- When I swim laps, I am really competitive. I always try and swim in the fast lane and I am always trying to swim faster than the people in the lanes near me. Even worse, when I do yoga, I am always clocking whether the people around me do a better/longer handstand or half-moon pose or whatever. Seriously. Competitive yoga? What is that?
What do you do in your free time?
I make raw food to test on my kids. Or I walk the dog.
What is your greatest ambition?
I would like to be a catalyst for positive change.
What or whom is your biggest love…I fall in love constantly. With people, with work, with new experiences. I love the headlong dive into another reality.
What is your mantra?Listen more. Speak less. Love more. Fear less.
Who is your greatest influence?
That is always changing – at the moment, my thinking is influenced by social activists like Malcolm X or Bernie Sanders or the Dalai Lama – but I also adored Wayne Dyer, I listened to his books on CD (back in the day) sometimes over and over again. I love Marianne Williamson and I re-read A Course in Miracles constantly. But as a writer, I love dense sensual writing that sucks you in – whether it’s poetry or fiction. I used to say that if – like a Blues musician – I went down to the crossroads at midnight and typed in my best riff and then handed my laptop back over my shoulder, the Devil would give me the power to write like Michael Ondatjee or Rumi or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s writing so lyrical and moving, it’s like listening to music.
What inspires you? In general…
At the moment, it’s water. I love to be in it or near it. I love the way it takes the shape of water container it’s in. I love the way it is incredibly powerful and destructive and also gentle and beautiful. I love swimming, surfing, paddle-boarding, even taking showers. Just looking across a river, an ocean or a lake calms the soul. On a practical level, the quality and quantity of the water we drink is crucial to our health. It’s one of the reasons I am so moved by the Standing Rock Sioux. Water really is a sacred element.
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