TEXT & PHOTO BY SOPHIA JENNINGS ('16), CREATIVE DIRECTOR
I can never predict who of my friends will know Hannah Bronfman. Often, it’s the sorority girls who love her smoothie recipes. Sometimes, it’s the boys in fashion. Once in awhile, it’s the musicians who know her father from Warner Music, her brother from M.I.A. Then of course, there’s my sister, who met Hannah at Bard and blasted the Heat Sirius XFM from her Range Rover.
Regardless of who knows her, Hannah Bronfman is known. A DJ, a fitness guru, an It-Girl and an entrepreneur, her health and beauty routines can be seen across Vogue, Forbes and Vanity Fair. Just this year, she became the face of Clinique, started a campaign with Adidas Women and appeared on Nicole Richie’s Candidly Nicole. She even DJed the White House Correspondent dinner.
Two summers ago, I spotted Hannah snapping a picture of her Matcha Latte as she left Ground Support on West Broadway. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal if she hadn’t uploaded the picture later. For me and the 207k other people who follow her on Instagram.
Whatever the case, people like to follow Hannah Bronfman. Just look up #HBFIT on Instagram and you’ll see the thousands of young people who embrace Hannah’s health and beauty practices. They do this largely because of the work of Wes alum Ava Rose Donaldson (’13).
Curious about what her job entails, I arranged for a Thursday night dinner at NYC's Sweetgreen, a salad restaurant off Delancey where there are more lemons of the lulu sort than in their famous Lemon Fresca.
I arrive and Ava is on her phone. A petite brunette with a similarity to Mila Kunis, her nails are painted with Hilary Clinton on one hand and “Who Run the World” on the other. Later I'd learn these were the same nails that Clinton shared on her Instagram earlier in the week. And then Vogue shared on their website. She greets me with a hug, “so good to finally meet you.”
As we reach the counter I look up to the see the menu: “Wild Child,” “Harvest Bowl," “Avocabbo.” I tell Ava to order first. She asks for her regular special recipe with cauliflower, double broccoli and three extra orders of the spicy cashew dressing. I give up. “I’ll have whatever she’s having.”
With a biodegradable fork in hand, I sit down and ask Ava to start from the beginning. How exactly does a Wesleyan senior end up a fitness guru's social media director? A Middletown native, Ava first followed Hannah in 2013 when she had only 6k followers. During the Spring, she looked her up on Facebook, realized they had a mutual friend, and came to NYC for lunch. By graduation, she was Hannah’s personal assistant.
The daughter of former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, Ava came to Wesleyan and had a “true Wesleyan Experience” with her studies. Originally majoring in Government, she scored a summer in Congress her freshman year. But hated it. By the fall she’d switched to American Studies and two summers later, she interned for designer Samanatha Sleeper. A year later she graduated with a degree in Italian Studies.
Ava’s first project for Hannah was working on Beautified, an app she calls the “one stop shop for all your beauty needs.” First, she expanded Beautified to LA, then came Beautified 2.0 with fitness classes. About a year and a half later, Hannah asked Ava to come run HBFIT, which she described to Harpers Bazaar as a site to “educate and empower her followers” through articles on wellness, fashion, and food.
Currently, Ava works out of a three person office in the East Village. It’s her, Hannah, and Cheyenne Adler, an intern from NYU. Plus editorial director Brooke Wolin in LA. “I think a lot of people see what we’re doing and compare it to Goop,” she says. “But there’s nobody who’s really doing health with beauty.”
When I ask how many followers they have, Ava crosses her fingers and says hopefully they’d have 15.5k by the end of the night. Two weeks later they have 16.4k. A month later they have 18.4k. Ava’s job is about the content. She posts five website pieces a week, two or three Instagrams a day plus a weekly newsletter. She’s also in charge of all partnerships and press, whether working with Clinique, Adidas, or Refinery29.
“If you follow HBFIT and you consistently engage, I know who you are,” she says. “And I know what you’re up to.” Really? “It’s part of the job, I think. People think it’s so crazy I don’t turn off the push notifications but I wanna know!” In the last 24 hours, HBFIT posted about bee venom cleansing balm, Hannah’s Harpers Bazaar cover and the St. Marks Farmers Market. “We really wanna make it about community,” she says. “We’re trying to switch it over from Hannah’s personal journey to the overall issue of wellness and how to be healthy in 2015.”
Now that their fanbase is settled, Ava is looking to grow the HBFIT community. “We wanna see how we can serve people online and offline,” she says. Whether this means introducing challenges, travel themed content, or products.
Ava admits the best and worst parts of the job are the same. “It can be whatever I want it to be” she says. “Everyday I’m scared. But that’s why I work so hard. It’s in my control and it’s uncharted waters for sure.” Ava’s job didn’t exist three years ago, and she doesn’t know what’ll look like in a year.
As we leave holding one umbrella between us, I get to thinking. Maybe Ava didn’t pursue a job in CT politics, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t the queen of getting votes. And in the age of the “like,” it looks like this is one Wes alum who knows what she's after.