How to Win Friends With Influencer People

“What we do—nobody really understands it. I have a lot of friends who don’t work in this space, and they think I’m just having two-hour lunches all day.”

Wenjia Tang

Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with two lifestyle bloggers and influencers—though they don’t necessarily love that word—about balancing work and friendship in an industry where your personal life is always on display.

The Friends:

Grace Atwood, 37, runs the lifestyle blog The Stripe and co-hosts the podcast Bad on Paper. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Krystal Bick, 33, runs the lifestyle blog This Time Tomorrow. She lives in Manhattan, New York.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Julie Beck: What led you guys to blogging, and what were your visions for your sites at the beginning?

Grace Atwood: I was really unhappy. I was a marketing manager for a big beauty company, and I thought I had my dream job. I had my own office, I was being paid very well, but [the job] sucked all the life out of me. So I was like, You know what, I’m going to set up a little site where I can put things that I like. Every night, almost like a journal, I’d write for 30 minutes. “These are the things I like right now.” I’d make a little graphic in Microsoft Paint, which was really professional.

Then I started doing these do-it-yourself projects. I would see a Dannijo necklace, or some high-end costume jewelry, and be like, Why is that $700? I can make that with beads from the craft store. It was budget, but it was fun.

Beck: And from the beginning, it was The Stripe?

Grace: Oh, no. It was originally Stripes & Sequins. Five years ago, which is when I went full-time with it, I changed the name. There was a trend in the early days of blogging, where every blog was two arbitrary nouns. I was Stripes & Sequins; my friend was Sequins & Stripes.

Krystal Bick: I think it originated from Cupcakes and Cashmere [a well-known lifestyle blog]. But when Grace rebranded, it felt much more on-brand, and a good representation of her.

I started This Time Tomorrow completely on a whim, right before I graduated college in 2009. The peak of the recession was hitting at that point, and my degree was in print journalism. The guy I was dating was like, “Why don’t you just start a random blog? You can at least keep writing and worry about the nitty-gritty of finding a job after graduation.” My original intent was to keep it up for a month. Had you told me 10 years ago I’d still be doing it now, I would definitely have laughed at you.

I was doing a lot of outfit documentation, because that’s what a lot of the blogs I was reading were doing. Girls like me, with similar budgets, were sharing, “Here’s what I wore today.” I had always loved putting interesting outfits together. In those early days, I was too afraid to ask anybody to take my photos. So I’d find empty alleyways, I would set a self-timer on the camera, and just take my photos that way. It was very scrappy.

Grace: I didn’t put myself on my blog for the first couple of years, because I was worried I'd get fired.

Krystal: [After graduation], I worked in social marketing at Google in San Francisco for five years, and also built up my blog. I was this weird Googler on campus who dressed very fashionably. Tech is not necessarily known to be the most fashion-forward. The Patagonia puffer vest, the striped oxford shirt underneath—there was a uniform. Hoodies were a part of that. I was showing up to work in a nice midi dress, and maybe some crazy heels, and I was the one getting weird looks.

Beck: How did you two meet?

Grace: It was seven or eight years ago, at one of the first blogger conferences. It was put together by Lucky magazine. I had gotten a new job working for BaubleBar, so I wanted to meet as many bloggers as I could to get our jewelry on them. I had read Krystal’s blog for probably a year leading up to this conference. When we met, I totally fangirled you.

Krystal: I think we fangirled each other.

Grace: I was so excited that you knew who I was. It was cool, this moment of meeting somebody from across the country who you feel like you know because of the internet. And then Krystal moved here, to New York.

Krystal: In 2015, four years later. But I came back to New York pretty regularly [in the meantime].

Bick & Atwood at a “Dirty Martini Night.” (Courtesy of Lydia Hudgens)

Beck: How did you become close?

Grace: I think we bonded over the fact that we both had full-time jobs. We were killing ourselves.

Krystal: It was a lot of burning the midnight oil. I always really admired that about Grace, because she balanced both very beautifully. I felt like I was this never-sleeping, frantic person, running around with my head cut off.

Grace: And I would look at you and be like, She’s always so put together and well dressed. I’m just scrambling to get a post up. I guess you always think that about the other person and see yourself as a mess.

Krystal: We’re all ducks sitting on the water. Very calm and peaceful at the top, but then once you look at the feet below the water, it’s a big old hot mess.

Grace: We also hung out a lot more because we had the same photographer.

Krystal: I eventually realized that walking around by myself with a tripod and a camera was probably not the most efficient way to scale my business.

Beck: At a certain point, you both decided to quit your jobs and go full-time on your blogs. Did your friendship play any role in that?

Krystal: I think Grace quit before I did, maybe six months ahead of me. I remember picking your brain quite a bit.

Grace: I remember being skeptical of myself for quitting. I was like,Well, you’re at Google! Maybe you shouldn’t quit; that’s a really great company!”

Krystal: They were valid points to bring up.

Grace: It was so hard for both of us to leave, because we both really loved our day jobs. But you get to a point where you don’t have any other life. I was so tired. One weekend, I couldn’t get out of bed.

Krystal: I was working like crazy, at Google and on the blog, and I realized that something had to give. I had to choose one or the other. Grace and I had a number of drinks talking about that. She gave me a really good nudge, like, “Go for it, just try it. If all else fails, we can both go back to corporate America.” And four years later, I think we’re both doing okay.

Grace: I think when you leave a job like that, you feel like you could never go back. But the reality is, you can. It’s not like you’re retiring.

Krystal: I think Grace’s time working in corporate environments has really helped her build a strong foundation for what she does on The Stripe. She does an amazing job building out a very robust editorial calendar. Not just for her site, but also for a number of different social-media platforms. Shameless friend plug.

Grace:  I’m very proud of you. I would say the exact same thing. We both take our sites and our social media very seriously. We treat it as a brand and not just a fun hobby. Like, “Oh, maybe I’ll post today because I feel like it.” I’m not throwing shade at the industry, but a lot of people have kind of given up their blogs.

Krystal: I don’t think either one of us has put all of our eggs in one basket. The basket being Instagram.

Beck: You’ve said this word a couple times, but just to be clear—would you guys call yourselves influencers? And what does that term mean to you?

Grace: There’s just not a better word. When someone asks me what I do, I would never say, “I’m an influencer.” I’d say, “I have a small women’s lifestyle website and I have a podcast.” But when everyone else is using that term, I’m like, “Okay, I guess I’m an influencer.” It just feels so dirty.

Beck: Why?

Krystal: It feels very one-directional. There’s something about the word influence that makes it seem like my only job today is to wake up and make somebody do something. I don’t think Grace and I ever wanted to have a one-way dialogue. We definitely try to set up our sites to be more of a conversation. Grace has a really great Facebook group where her readers, sometimes even without Grace moderating it, are just talking among themselves.

Beck: When you say one-directional, do you mean being a mouthpiece for brands?

Krystal: Yeah. And don’t get me wrong, she and I obviously do brand work. But I think the way we tell those stories feels much more multifaceted than like, “Here’s me in a dress. Buy this dress.” We’re sharing how we style it this certain way, or how it fits into our lives. Or why we really believe in this brand. Like Grace right now is working on a plus-size inclusivity challenge.

Grace: I’m doing this thing where I only shop at and work with clothing brands that make at least a size 16 and XXL. And that’s not even true plus-size. It’s really hard to find something that comes in a size zero through 40. And that came from my community being like, “Hey, I love your site, but I can’t wear half the things that you are wearing.”

I’m not here to just sell and influence and push things down people’s throats. It’s more about building a community. I talk about being single a lot. I talk about female friendship a lot. I want my site to be a place where women come, and they have their coffee and they feel happier.

Beck: What is the broader influencer social scene like?

Grace: It can really vary. Some people can be very competitive and not want to make friends within the industry. There can be a little bit of social climbing. So I think it’s really important to surround yourself with a group of really supportive, hard-working women. Krystal and I both have a great group of friends in this space. It makes it easier, because what we do—nobody really understands it. I have a lot of friends who don’t work in this space, and they think I’m just having two-hour lunches all day. I’m like, “No, I’m at my desk just like you.” It’s really helpful to have friends who understand what you’re doing, who can listen and give their advice.

Krystal Bick (left) and Grace Atwood (second from right) with other attendees at an event for Banana Republic (David X Prutting / BFA)

Krystal: We’ve had enough experience to know what this industry looked like well before it was ever an industry. Fast-forward to today, when it’s now a multimillion-dollar advertising arm, basically. It really comes down to building your tribe of people, kindred spirits who understand where you’re coming from and love what you’re doing. The industry’s obviously very saturated. Grace and I can go to events every single night and meet a new crop of people. I love being able to immerse myself in new groups and learn from people who are maybe doing things differently. But I think what keeps me grounded is people like Grace, who I know I can get a really honest opinion from.

One thing I really miss about working in a corporate environment is just the sheer ease of collaborating and brainstorming together. Influencers ... we’re sort of working in a silo. You can feel like, Oh, this is my one-woman show. But I see Grace as an extension of my co-worker group.

Beck: Do you guys ever appear in each other’s content? Have you ever collaborated on anything?

Grace: I just did a list of nine women that inspire me, and Krystal was one of them. And we always link to each other, because we both do a weekly roundup of the best things from the internet. And Krystal’s stuff usually makes the cut in my eyes.

Beck: Part of the reason I ask is, I’m curious what it’s like when your friendship is sort of part of your personal brand, which is your business. My work is public, but my close friendships are not necessarily being advertised as part of my work.

Grace: It’s gotten to a point where I just don’t even think about that. I’m just so used to sharing my life on the internet. The rule for a long time was with my influencer friends, we all share everything because it’s more fun to see people together and doing things. But my friends who aren’t influencers would be like, “Hmm, maybe keep me off.”

But in the past year, my friends who aren’t influencers [have started to be] like, “Oh, no, I’m cool being on your stuff.” I should look at it as my business, but unless it’s an ad, I’m just sharing my life.

Krystal: When influencers or content creators share more about their friendships, I think there’s an extra layer of, “Oh, they do all actually hang.” Sometimes you have an event where some of us might be paid to be there. Or maybe not—Grace does lots of wonderful dinner parties and brunch parties at her apartment. I love that she goes out of her way to get together a lot of friends when normally we may only get to see each other at events. And yeah, sometimes Grace layers in some sort of campaign that she might be working on, shooting it while also doing the party.

Grace: We’ll do it for like an hour, and then we all hang out.

Krystal: But she’s also very respectful and makes sure that if you don’t want to be in the photo, it’s totally fine. I know my readers really love it when they see me hanging with girls like Grace, or some of our other friends in the group. There’s just a level of relatability there.

Grace: It’s so important to have a group of girlfriends, or even just a friend, in this industry. I feel like influencers, as we are calling them—

Krystal: I can imagine you cringing right now, saying that word.

Grace: Oh, I’m so cringing. I think we’re very misunderstood as a group. It can be really hard for me to vent or whine a little bit to friends outside the industry. Because they’re like, “Oh, you work for yourself. You get paid to post pictures of yourself with Prada, or whatever it is. You have the easiest life.” And I’m like, “Actually, no. I was fighting with this brand, I had a really hard day and then I had to go smile and take photos for three hours. And I felt like crying.” You can’t complain to your followers, and you can't complain to your friends that have other jobs because they don’t always get it. So it’s really nice to have somebody who understands.

Krystal: At the end of the day, we’re small-business owners. When you are a sole proprietor, it all comes down to you. It does look from the outside like one big fancy party. We’re wearing beautiful clothing, we get to go here and work with that brand and meet that person. And don’t get me wrong, those are all wonderful perks, but there’s a lot behind the scenes that doesn’t necessarily get shared. Our other friend always compares it to an iceberg. Our readers sees the tip of this pretty iceberg, but there’s a huge mess down below that goes down after hours, in the middle of the night.

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