Leyla Balimtas, a senior at the University of Maryland, was on the hunt for an internship last year when an email went around her sorority from a former member. It was from Alison Gary, the blogger behind Wardrobe Oxygen, who was asking for help with her blog on a part-time basis. “I didn’t have an internship lined up, and the position offered 10 hours a week and seemed pretty cool.”
She spent the next few months cleaning up Gary’s Pinterest presence, helping with SEO and WordPress. She was paid.
Interns and assistants aren’t just vital to the mainstream fashion media. While it may have seemed like a ludicrous idea just a few years ago, the growth of the blogger has resulted in the advent of a new role: the blogger’s assistant.
There is no industry standard for what the blogger’s assistant or intern does — and often the lines between traditional “assistants” and “interns” can blur. The role can be part-time or full-time, and are in most cases unpaid. And as bloggers get bigger — some have morphed into full-fledged media companies and in some cases, designers and trendsetters in their own rights — there’s more work to be done. A look at current job postings reveals what that entails: Research contacts, handle social media, work with brands and PR companies for partnerships, develop story concepts, shoot editorials — and of course, run errands.
Big bloggers with their own mini media-empires, assistants and interns can be invaluable in terms of booking travel and doing administrative work. But in many cases, assistants or interns or “intern-assistants” act as stand-ins for the blogger, doing most of the work with little or no credit. One former intern who preferred not to be named said that she interned at two different blogs, didn’t get paid for either stint, and often wrote posts and attended events to take photographs without credit.
In some cases, they also work remotely, which enables them to work longer than an average summer internship and, in some cases, for over a year or two. For example, Yana Glemaud, of Smile Is It, has an assistant who lives in Russia she said she pays a “fair wage” — for Russia. “It’s more affordable for me and still good money and experience for her,” she said.
Wardrobe Oxygen’s Gary said she hired an assistant for the first time when she turned her blog into her full-time job in 2010. “Things started exploding, and I just didn’t have enough hands to do all I wanted to do.”
Her intern today, a student at Old Dominion University, is also paid part-time, but does work unpaid outside of that. “During her unpaid time, I let her have cool opportunities like interview designers,” she said. “She wants to be a fashion writer, this is her opportunity to build her portfolio.” Her paid time is doing what Gary calls “grunt work” for the blog itself.
Nataliya Ogle, the blogger behind Style Tomes, said that people who want to be assistants or interns want to eventually get into blogging themselves. She pays her assistants — with money, but also has in the past offered fashion show invites in exchange for posts for the site.
Asked why most bloggers don’t pay their assistants and interns or pay them only for part of the work they do, Gary said that most bloggers are often themselves not making enough money. “We’re being paid in jeans or swag, so we pay in jeans to swag,” she said. “You can come work with me and have swag or attend store openings.”
Which is where things can get sticky. Mainstream fashion media has been criticized for exploiting interns: In 2014, Condé Nast discontinued its internship program after it was sued by former interns who said they were being paid below minimum wage during stints at The New Yorker and fashion magazine W. A couple of years before that, a Harper’s Bazaar intern also sued. Many of the bloggers and interns reached out for this article declined to comment on this particular issue, saying that because interns are suing in all professional realms, not just fashion, talking about this could be problematic.
Esther Santer, the blogger behind Louboutins and Love, a style blog she began in 2012 said that people often don’t realize blogging is a “full-time job” that requires lots of time spent on emails, social media and meetings. She’s currently on her sixth assistant — all of whom have been unpaid, but have had the opportunity to earn commission based on affiliate links on original content they provide for the blog.
“I also share the swag I receive, offer commission, and pass along invites to even the most exclusive events. My assistants are always given the credit they deserve and even after they move on, they know they can reach out if they need anything,” she said. She meets them once a week and sends assignments weekly.
For Jasmin Briggs, Gary’s intern, it came as a pleasant surprise that Gary pays, even if it’s only part of the time. She wants to eventually go into fashion media, so said she was happy to work if it meant being able to interview people herself, something she didn’t think would happen. She also has another internship, as a “style guru” at College Fashionista, a fashion blog that asks students from across American college campuses to submit posts, that doesn’t pay.
“Maintaining a blog and day job simultaneously demands more hours than there are in the day,” said Ogle. “So an assistant is necessary.”