7 AM to 7 PM: How Pinterest's Aya Kanai Makes Time to Go to the Park Every Day

Aya Kanai and daughter Rei

Yumi Matsuo

Parents don’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—we work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from the moment our kids wake up until they go to sleep. This is an unfiltered look at a day in the life of Aya Kanai, head of content and creator partnerships at Pinterest.


Aya Kanai is the definition of glamorous. The self-proclaimed "fashion person" has been the Fashion Director at Nylon, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Women’s Health, and more. Most recently, she served as the editor-in-chief at Marie Claire. Since September 2020, she has been the head of content and creator partnerships at Pinterest. Besides her day job, Kanai is mom to Rei, 3, who she shares with her husband Todd Bailey. The family lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Despite her impressive resume and incredible sense of style, Kanai wasn’t always set on this fashionable path. In fact, while studying at Oberlin College in Ohio, she trained to be a puppeteer. “I was a puppeteer and a puppet maker for a handful of years after college, which I know sounds crazy, but it is 100% true,” Kanai says.

When Kanai graduated from college, she knew she wasn't ready to get a job, so she sought out other opportunities. "In my last year of college, I applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which allows you to design your own project," she explains. "If you win, you are funded for an entire year to travel the world and execute your project. The one rule of the fellowship is that you are not allowed to have your feet on American soil for that full calendar year."

She won and traveled to Poland, Czech Republic, Japan, France—all over the globe. "Puppet theater is a tradition that exists in almost every culture," Kanai says. "I was studying with master puppeteers around the world."

When she returned to her hometown of New York, she got a job at a juice bar on the Lower East Side. In addition to working at puppet theaters around the city, she was also tinkering with the idea of a "backup" career in fashion.

"I had also been really interested in fashion when I was in college studying art and had done several internships in the fashion industry while I was a student,” Kanai says. “When I realized that I didn't necessarily see a long-term career for me as a puppeteer, I decided to take a job at a new start-up magazine published by Conde Nast called Teen Vogue."

She was hired at Teen Vogue in 2001 as a fashion assistant and worked her way up over the course of nearly two decades. Ultimately, she became the Executive Fashion Director at Hearst. "I oversaw fashion for Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping—all of the Hearst properties. And after that, I became the Editor-In-Chief at Marie Claire," she says.

I am a creator. I have been a person who has had this incredible privilege my entire career of making content professionally.

Kanai says that being at Marie Claire was a dream job, but then she got a call and an offer she couldn’t refuse. "The reason why the Pinterest opportunity was different was that it was building a creator ecosystem," Kanai says. "I am a creator. I have been a person who has had this incredible privilege my entire career of making content professionally."

As someone who studied art in college and worked in fashion for more than 10 years, Pinterest had always been a place where Kanai turned for inspiration and to create mood boards for the magazine photoshoots she was a part of.

"The opportunity at Pinterest was to empower other people—hundreds of millions of users globally—to make their own content, to tell their own story, to share their expertise," Kanai says. As a visually-oriented person, she had been developing and sharing her ideas on the platform for the majority of her career. Taking the job was a no-brainer.

Despite her professional success, Kanai’s personal life wasn’t all smooth sailing. After marrying her husband in 2015, the couple decided to try for a baby. "I started trying to become a parent when I was, my goodness 38, I think—it is all a blur now," she says. Sadly, the couple experienced a miscarriage during this process.

Kanai had an insurance policy. She had frozen her eggs when she was 35. “I used those eggs after my husband, and I decided we wanted to start our family.”

I definitely put in a lot of time, money, and effort into becoming a parent. It is something I am very happy and willing to talk about.

The couple’s daughter, Rei Kanai Bailey, was born in February 2018. "I did three rounds of IVF," Kanai reveals. "I definitely put in a lot of time, money, and effort into becoming a parent. It is something I am very happy and willing to talk about."

See how Kanai works from a "home office" in Brooklyn (really, it is just the corner of her bedroom), why she thinks it is important for her daughter to play outdoors all year round, and which poems her husband recites to their child before bed.

Aya Kanai and daughter Rei

Yumi Matsuo

Monday

7 a.m. We have this “wake clock” that changes colors. The parents set it based on their kid’s rhythms. At 6:40 a.m., the clock turns yellow. Rei is usually chit-chatting to herself in bed at that point. Naturally, in a small Brooklyn apartment, we can hear her all the time.

At 7 a.m. exactly is when the clock turns green, and that is her notification that it is time to wake up. She always announces it in the mornings when she waits [for the light]. She says out loud, "Mommy, Daddy. Come on, please. I waited for the green," because she is celebrating the fact that she did it.

I am the wake-up person and my husband is the go-to bed person in our family, so I will get up with her. We brush our teeth and get dressed. My daughter is very, very opinionated about what she wears. Maybe she knows she is the child of a fashion person.

I am the wake-up person and my husband is the go-to bed person in our family.

For a long time, she would put on whatever I had grabbed out of her little closet. But recently, she really wants to decide. If I present her with options, she wants to pick. This drags out the getting dressed process. But she is going to school—she should have an opinion about what she gets to wear.

7:45 a.m. We do breakfast at home, which is usually apples with peanut butter smeared on top, or my husband might make eggs. We always sit down at the table to eat breakfast, even if we are just having something simple. This way, Rei knows that breakfast is a time when you take a pause in the morning to be together.

8:30 a.m. My daughter goes to preschool five days a week. We leave the house together as a family at 8:30 a.m. My husband and I usually make an effort to drop her off together. It doesn't take two parents to drop off one child at preschool. But there is something nice for our family to just get out in the morning and walk her to school. It is right in our neighborhood, like a 10-minute walk away. After, he and I might get a coffee and just talk a little bit before we get started [on our days].

If things are particularly crazy or I have an early call with one of our partner teams in Europe, then I might not walk her to school. When the whole schedule goes upside down and she wakes up early, we might go to a playground because there is one right across the street from her preschool.

My daughter is very, very opinionated about what she wears. Maybe she knows she is the child of a fashion person.

9 a.m. I start my day at 9 a.m. when I get back home from dropping her off. This past year was very challenging. I was very lucky because my family was safe and well, but it has been hard [working from home].

My husband works in the aerospace industry—he is an engineer—and we have both been working from our small apartment in Brooklyn. We don't have a guest bedroom or an extra room. So he has a tiny little closet that he uses as his home office. I have a corner of the bedroom.

If we lived somewhere with extra space, I probably would have set up my home office in a different area than the bedroom because it is probably not the most ideal for mental wellness.

Working in the consumer tech industry, [my days are] very meeting heavy. I am always doing external calls with creators or partners, and internal calls with our product team, our engineering team, our design team, or our marketing team. Oftentimes, my schedule is chock-a-block of meetings.

I also do a lot of external presentations and TV appearances, obviously by a virtual platform. So I have two desks in my bedroom. One where I can sit down and take internal calls with colleagues. And then I have a standing desk where I do a lot of my external presentations.

My standing presentation space is literally six inches away from my sitting desk—they are stacked on top of each other. My standing desk has nice flowers in the background and books and whatnot [so the background looks well-designed on camera], but really, it is all my bedroom.

12 p.m. Our headquarters are in California, so usually my San Francisco calls begin around noon.

1:30 p.m. There are days where I can't even get up to go get a piece of cheese from the fridge. It is very, very busy. The fact that I used to commute 45 minutes [seems unbelieveable]. I can’t even remember it, honestly.

3 p.m. Even though my husband and I both work from home in our apartment, we are not talking to each other during the day. If I go to grab a glass of water, and he is on a call, we are not chit-chatting. We are definitely in our own worlds, even though we are in a small space together.

5:20 p.m. I have to pick up my child from preschool at 5:40 p.m. So usually for my last call, I have my shoes on and I am ready to walk out the door.

There are days where I can't even get up to go get a piece of cheese from the fridge. It is very, very busy. The fact that I used to commute 45 minutes [seems unbelieveable]. I can’t even remember it, honestly.

5:30 p.m. I exit my apartment to go pick up my kid. We always go to the park, winter, spring, summer, or fall. There is an outdoor play space at her preschool, but living in New York City, I want her to have as much outdoor time as possible. We don't have a yard, so we will go to the park.

In the summer, we bring a bathing suit so that she can run in the sprinklers. We try to have a solid 45 minutes to an hour after school of outdoor time. She is a very athletic kid. She loves the jungle gym, hanging upside down, and swinging from bar to bar.

7 p.m. We are home by 7 p.m. There is a place near my house that has these oversized warm pretzels, and my daughter always wants to get pretzels. On a special day, we might go out to dinner but usually, we eat dinner at home.

I am a terrible cook. You don't want me boiling water or really doing anything in the kitchen. So my husband handles most of the cooking for our family. He Is great at it and he likes doing it.

We very much try to have dinner together, and we try to not make different food for her than what we are going to eat. Of course, she does not eat all the vegetables that my husband and I are eating. We just want her to see us enjoying them so that hopefully the day will come when she eats them all, too.

I never thought she would like asparagus because asparagus has kind of a strong taste, but she loves it. She will eat broccoli. Frankly, if it has a lot of salt and butter on it, she loves anything.

After dinner, we do a bath. When she turned 3, she started resisting it a little bit. She used to be thrilled to just hop in and play. Now, especially during the hair washing, there is resistance.

My husband's mother is a dental hygienist and so teeth brushing is very, very important in our household. My husband always brushes his teeth with my daughter and has taught her the techniques and how to appropriately brush her teeth. This sometimes happens successfully, and sometimes does not.

7:45 p.m. My husband is in charge of bedtime. I will read a book with my daughter, of her choosing, of course—she needs to be the decider—and then my husband will do bedtime.

I never thought she would like asparagus because asparagus has kind of a strong taste, but she loves it. She will eat broccoli. Frankly, if it has a lot of salt and butter on it, she loves anything.

This sounds like I am lying but I promise it is true—he recites a poem to her. There are a handful of them that she really likes. She likes Robert Frost’s "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "The Raven," and "The Sugar Plum Tree" by Eugene Field. So he will turn off the lights, and they will say the poem together and talk about the day. After, he says goodnight and exits the room.

[After Rei goes to bed] I am just a noodle at that point. I feel like a wet noodle on the couch. I wish I could say that I really optimize that post-bedtime time. I work on a mostly California timeline and if there is a call that I need to be on at 8:30 p.m., I will do that.

My husband and I do the same things that everyone does—watch Netflix and try to relax. I wish I could say I am doing yoga or practicing handstands but that is not what I am doing. Goodnight!

Aya Kanai and daughter Rei

Yumi Matsuo

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