Sasha Exeter on How She Grows With Her Audience After a Decade as an Influencer
Sasha Exeter started blogging back in 2012 as a hobby while she recovered from a serious illness. Now, she’s one of Canada’s best-known content creators, has a loyal Instagram following and has partnered up with brands like Joe Fresh, Clinique and Tetley.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with cars. The love was passed down from my father, a business and design consultant, who also loves cars. When I was little, I thought it would be cool to be a mechanic. I used to have dreams of working on a Formula One team. When I got older I started playing tennis and went to university in the U.S. on a full tennis scholarship. I started out studying political science at Indiana State University then switched to international business at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
After graduation I ended up working for Imperial Tobacco, which I know is a weird job choice for a former athlete. I moved to Stockholm, Sweden to do grassroots research on “snus,” a smokeless tobacco, which I helped to launch in the Canadian market. Tobacco advertising has been restricted in Canada since 1997, so I learned how to market a product without being able to share any information about it to the end consumer. What I learned from my six years in the industry is that if I can market a product under those conditions, I can sell anything.
Unlike most content creators, who build their audience very meticulously, I fell into this career by accident. I suffer from two chronic illnesses, a kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and fibromyalgia. In 2012, I got very sick and was hospitalized for the better part of a year. I couldn’t work and I had to sublet my condo and move back in with my parents in Pickering, Ont. I was pretty much bedridden the entire year after that, so I opened my laptop and started writing.
“I’m all about authenticity and sharing the journey of what’s going on in my life”
I founded my blog, which was called SoSasha.com, in 2012. Early on my content was mostly one-off stories about product launches, putting together roundups of New Year’s Eve outfits and gift guides. Two years into writing the blog, I revealed to my audience what I had been going through with my chronic illnesses. That was a huge turning point for me. When I decided to open up about my personal struggles and allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of my audience, that’s when I noticed the trajectory of what I was doing really started to change. I had more readers on my website, higher engagement and more followers.
I started to realize blogging was something I could apply my professional expertise to—to essentially market myself. I started developing decks and creating pitches for clients. My first partnership was with Ann Taylor. I joined their blogger ambassador program, which means I would post about the brand in exchange for product and compensation. Since the beginning, I’ve focused on long-term partnerships with brands instead of one-offs. Most of the current brands I work with, like Joe Fresh, Clinique and Activia, have been clients for five or more years.
Brands love that I’m able to present them with a fully fleshed-out deck that explains exactly what I’m going to do, how it will enhance their brand and how I can incorporate key product launches and marketing initiatives for the year into my content. One of my latest partnerships involved creating a custom tea blend for Tetley. My dad is from the Caribbean, and in the winter months, Caribbean people drink homemade ginger tea when they’re sick or feeling down. I created a ginger-honey herbal tea blend because it makes me nostalgic for my childhood.
Social media today looks nothing like it did in 2012. I think I’ve managed to maintain my audience and stay relevant all these years because of my transparency. I’m all about authenticity and sharing the journey of what’s going on in my life, whether that’s my pregnancy, becoming a mom, having my heart broken by my child’s father, dealing with incredibly difficult mental health issues and navigating the pandemic as a single parent. If I had stayed in one lane covering fashion and beauty, my audience might have plateaued, but by focusing on my authentic self day-to-day, I’m able to keep growing and evolving with the industry.
As a Black woman, I’ve had to work harder than my counterparts because of the colour of my skin. At times it’s been very difficult for me to even get into the room to have certain conversations. But over the past 19 months, with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining more support, it has really changed the landscape for people of colour working in the creator space.
What I love most about my career is being able to connect with people I never would have met otherwise. I receive so many messages every day about how opening up about my own mental health and chronic illnesses have inspired other people to really dig deep and face their own challenges. That really means a lot.