M.J. Day, the editor of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, has been working for the magazine for her whole career.
After graduating college in 1997, she was an intern for InStyle, a fellow Time Inc. publication, before taking a low-level job as an editorial assistant on the SI swimsuit issue a year later. Part of that first job was sorting through the estimated 30,000 bikinis that are submitted for the issue and sending them back to designers.
“I sat in a closet and matched bikinis for eight hours a day and returned them to designers,” she told BI about her first job. “I did every part of this job from the ground floor up.”
More than a decade later, after holding positions at every level of the magazine, Day now runs things.
“That’s some of the beauty of being here as long as I’ve been here. I’m very familiar with the product,” she said. “I’ve been able to sit and observe and form my own opinions about what’s working, what’s not working, what could work better, how we could expand and grow.”
“It was sort of a very long case study.”
There are four SI staffers who work exclusively on the Swimsuit Issue, and Day is the highest ranking. She travels all over the world for photoshoots, including places like Antarctica and Madagascar, where she found herself on an island with no electricity alongside model Irina Shayk for the 2015 issue.
Her Instagram account (warning: borderline NSFW), is full of incredible photos from exotic locations:
She’s also in charge of overseeing a 51-year-old brand in a rapidly changing industry.
Since taking her current position in 2014, her plan has been to expand the brand beyond its once-a-year publishing schedule. Two years ago the company launched Swim Daily, a website that promotes the issue with additional content all year long. This year the Travel Channel aired a five-part “making of” documentary about the magazine.
“We nailed the print. We know how to do that. We know how to do that wonderfully,” she said. “We take so much video footage and use it in so many different ways. But I think we can do it bigger and better.”
All of this, Day says, is part of a larger effort to humanize the models who most people only know through the print product, and diversify their careers. The idea is to use additional content, like Swim Daily videos and social media, to promote these women as well-rounded people.
“I love proving to people that they’re more than just a pretty face,” Day said. “You see somebody like a Chrissy Teigen who is so utterly hysterical and captivating and brilliant and has her hands in a thousand different things. If you only see her in print, you’re missing out on so much of her that’s not just the visual image.”
“It only makes our magazine stronger to develop these women into more than just a model.”
Day is confident that her plan is working.
“We are experiencing a level of popularity and response and respect that I don’t think we’ve seen since the era of the supermodel in the late-80s, early-90s,” she said.
“My ideas so far have been working. When I say I want to shoot in zero gravity, they’re like, ‘OK?‘ but they trust me.”
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