Nina Garcia’s Right-Hand Woman: Ashley Afriyie.

Ashley Afriyie may be known as an “Assistant Fashion Editor” according to a quick glance at the Marie Claire masthead, but to those of us working at Marie Claire, we know her to fill (and succeed at) nearly every role out there. The assistant to MC Senior Fashion Director and Project Runway judge, Nina Garcia, Ashley is a known personality around the office, cracking jokes one minute, getting down-to-business the next. There’s a reason she’s held her position for two years now… she’s good. And I was lucky enough to be moved from the fashion closet to be her intern for the summer.  Here Ashley discusses with me why being an assistant isn’t all Devil Wears Prada, and shares some inside advice on how to turn being an intern into a full-time fashion career.

– I’m trying not to sound too cliche, but to give us some background, when did your interest in fashion journalism begin? “It began with a class I took in high school about fashion merchandising. I grew up in Jersey and just like every other girl I loved fashion, and since this was the first time the class was introduced at my school I decided to take it. I applied to FIT that same year and decided to major in it, but I guess I didn’t really understand all that fashion merchandising entailed. There’s a lot of buying involved, aka – math, and I hate math. So I reevaluated what I wanted to do and I realized I really loved fashion magazines, so I became an Advertising Marketing Communications major. It just covers so many different aspects of the industry all in one major, it was perfect.”

Where did you intern during college? “My first internship was with NBC Universal. At the time I thought PR Entertainment sounded fun, so I went on their website and applied and started in their Movie Division that semester. I got to work on press junkets and promotions that would essentially promote whatever movie NBC Universal had out at the time, and we had to figure out how to do so without making the company spend a lot of money. Anything from handing out t-shirts, cookies, etc., we did it. I even got to meet Justin Timberlake once while promoting one of his movies! ”

“For my next internship I started in the fashion closet at Teen Vogue and then moved to the Accessories department and worked under Taylor Tomasi Hill. Anything from returns, to pick-ups, to checking things in, to going on runs, I did it all, and it was really hard work sometimes. After finishing at Teen Vogue I studied abroad in London for the semester and interned with Marie Claire UK before returning home to the states and interning in the features department at Vogue. At this point I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, but Vogue had always been a huge goal of mine. I mean it’s Vogue! So while I was there I worked as Hamish Bowles’ Assistant’s assistant, and probably the coolest thing I got to do while there was assist Hamish in his then upcoming book. I basically spent every day in the Conde Nast library looking through their archived socialite pictures from the 1930s and up, and saw how fashion grew through the years. I mean I was getting to see Vogue evolve from black and white photos to color, from all white models to starting to notice different ethnicities and the first black woman in Vogue, from glamorous looks in the 50s to retro looks in the 70s. It definitely made me fall in love with fashion a little more.”

– How can interns leave an impression even after they’ve completed their internships, how can they be memorable? “As far as leaving an impression during your internships, you need to understand that when you take an internship you’re taking a job, you’re making a commitment to a company and their employees. Even if you don’t like the internship or you realize this is not what you want to do, you can always learn something. Give 110%, no task should be too big or too small, never call-out, and do everything happily! Be a go-getter.”

I know a lot of people believe being someone’s assistant means you don’t have a life of your own. Do you feel like this statement is true? Do you ever get “me” time? “When you’re first starting out in the fashion industry, or any industry really, it can be hard to have a life because you’re working to establish yourself and make a name for yourself. But being someone’s assistant, and being Nina Garcia’s assistant, she’s not working to climb a ladder. She’s already very well established, she has a family, her life is pretty set in how she wants it to be. During the work week, yes, it can be challenging to have personal time, but I still go to dinner with friends. I still go out on the weekends. And above all, Nina and I have a really good relationship, and I think that respect for the other person makes working together easier too. Sure there are times when we’re both stressed, but for the most part she isn’t texting me on weekends, she isn’t making me work on my days off. She’s a really great boss, and I’m lucky to be in her court.”

What is the best part of working at a national fashion publication? The worst? “ I really love being a staff member here at Marie Claire. We’re an international publication first of all, but second, with any media company you work with that’s out there and well-known to the public, you’re going to get respect and credibility with your name being in that particular masthead. More importantly I really love our magazine and believe in it.”

“The worst part about working here are the deadlines. When we’re getting close to closing an issue, it can be a nightmare, especially with my job title. Assisting the Fashion Director who also happens to be a TV celebrity and best-selling author, she doesn’t always have the time to be in the office 24/7, so I have to be the eyes, ears, everything of this office and refer it back to her. I guess you can say that makes it the best and the worst part of the job: I get to see and be involved with every aspect of this magazine, whether that be copy, marketing, photo, art, fashion, everything, which is so cool, but it’s also a lot to handle all at once, and on deadline. I’m Nina’s voice.”

– I’ve run into a number of people who think the fashion industry is superficial and petty, what is your response to that? Why is fashion important? “I actually learned this from Nina, and that’s that clothes are important. The way you dress, what you wear, it leaves an impression on people, and it’s a statement about you. I know this may not be true in every case, but for the most part, it’s a reflection of who you are as a person and how you see yourself, and at the end of the day, people care how they look because of what it says to others.

– At 26 years old you’ve already accomplished so much. What’s next for you? Do you see yourself as an assistant long-term or are there other goals in mind? “Right now I think the next step for me would be being an Associate Market Editor, something like that. One of the other great things about working with Nina is the many industries she’s involved with: I work with TV production now because of Project Runway, I work in magazines because of Marie Claire, etc. I think I could honestly nail just about any interview because I’ve accumulated so many different skills in this position. I’ve lived in New York City permanently for about three years now, and right now, yes, I see myself staying East Coast and working in the city long-term. I mean I like the idea of living in the city forever, but you never know.”

“If you notice in the fashion industry, it can be hard to have kids or a family when you’re first starting out. Time and money is short, and kids cost money, babysitters cost money, etc. But you kind of have to choose your battles and what path you want to take. Right now, I’m okay with sacrificing those things, but I’m taking life as it comes. One day I’ll want those things too.”

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