27-year-old CEO and fashion designer, Mary Young, is revolutionizing lingerie. Young creates ethical and sustainable lingerie that compliments the natural shape of a woman’s body, contrary to mainstream lingerie companies such as Victoria Secret.
By Emma Glennon
She is a 21st century goddess, in the most effortless sense of the word. She is the up and coming, 27-year-old CEO and fashion designer, Mary Young. Young is the woman you have a massive crush on – and while straight – still question your sexuality a bit. A woman you have an innate desire to be friends with – but are also scared to talk to her out of sheer anxiety you’ll embarrass yourself. Perhaps the reason why the female collective is so attracted to her is because Young is changing what fashion means for women one undergarment at a time.
Never feeling like she fit into mainstream lingerie, Young was inspired to design sustainable and ethical lingerie that celebrated the diversity of a woman’s natural shape – contrary to most mainstream undergarment companies that market to a hyper-sexualized one kind of woman.
Four years post launch, the undergarment line is a major success. The company, named after the CEO herself, has birthed a team of six employees and two warehouses to make the dream happen. The company has over 25,000 reach across all social media platforms combined. Never would one have guessed that this successful entrepreneur and fashion extraordinaire lived with chronic pain for over a decade before landing where she is today. Young shares what it takes to overcome life’s biggest battles to be a boss, entrepreneur and full-time hustler in the 21st century. She also paints the importance of staying true to her vision in creating a sustainable, diverse and ethical fashion company.
At seven years of age, Mary Young had a vocation to be in the fashion industry. Many years later, she enrolled in Fashion Communications at Ryerson University to pursue her calling. Little did many know, that during her time at Ryerson, she almost dropped out of school.
Young presented at TedxYouth in Toronto in early 2018 on her struggles with chronic pain. She experienced a grade one concussion as a sixteen-year-old; and as a by-product, she experienced severe migraines for almost a decade. Towards the end of her undergrad degree, her doctors felt they had tried everything and that she should drop school to focus solely on her health. Young said this diagnosis meant giving up on her dreams. The CEO says this was the moment that she knew she had to make drastic changes in her approach to health and life.
In her TedX, Young shares how altering her attitude to a positive mindset healed her. For years, Young would seek help through the medical system and drugs. She had freezing injected into every single vertebra of her spine to numb the pain. Nothing would work. But once she changed her mindset, she refused to let the reality of her diagnosis control her life. She began to make changes in the way she viewed the world; such as say she experienced migraines instead of saying she suffered from them. Young says that she would often talk to herself every morning in the mirror – like she would to a friend. She would complement herself. Journal what she was grateful for every single day – despite the pain. Young said it was this strong mentality that made her feel like anything was possible. After a few months of changing her lifestyle, her migraines went from twenty-three days a month, to only a few days a month. Young continued studying fashion as her health returned.
Although she had no interest in the lingerie department as a teenager, the idea came to her in the final year of her undergrad degree. Young was to put together a final thesis. Half her thesis was in fashion communications and half was in design.
“I was studying a bunch of things at the time. I was looking at how rapid hip hop was formed in the late 80’s and 90’s as my capstone thesis – and I wanted to turn that into a collection.”
Retro, vintage, and colourful – she created a very artistic lingerie spread. Once the capstone project wrapped up, everyone was asking where they could purchase the undergarments. Young said that it was pivotal to her success to then create a business plan to make the lingerie lucrative. After a few months of putting her plan into writing, the line launched in September of 2014.
Mary Young says that there was a greater vision for the company. In creating the line, Young’s mission was to be real and authentic. The CEO believes success in any business comes from having the solution to a problem for a target niche. Young says her niche needs fashionable but comfortable undergarments that embraced women of all shapes.
She describes that most current lingerie companies are comparable to brands such as Victoria Secret; and they only market to one type of woman.
“If you’re not tall, blonde, blue-eyed and the right kind of skinny, then you’re not considered sexy. So I never saw myself or someone that looked like me in any advertisements or conversations about lingerie.”
Young laughs and points out that the only alternative to the sexy undergarment companies is Aerie or Fruit of Loom, which most people would rather not be caught wearing in public for the sheer embarrassment it may cause. Young designs bras without underwire or padding to embrace a female’s natural body shape; however, she takes pride in keeping the design of the undergarments on trend and fashionable.
“The messaging that [mainstream lines] are sending woman of all ages – young or old – is completely bias. Even the woman in advertisements don’t look like that. They are dieting for weeks to be on the runway. This and that. This is not a realistic approach. I’ve always felt that fashion can make you feel more confident – and celebrating your natural self is the best way to do that.”
The company takes pride in the messages that they share on self-love and acceptance. Organically, Young adopted a blog on the website and created a chapter called Self Love Club. Young explains that Self Love Club was never about the product or being a consumer, more initiating a movement.
“It is the attitude that you have about yourself and toward others. We are really creating the space for open dialogue around self-love and acceptance both mentally and physically.” Young believes that since lingerie is the first thing you put on in the morning, it should be a moment that makes you feel good and comfortable in your skin.
The Mary Young company often produces videos with stories of others and their experience with self-love and acceptance. The imagery is very diverse in both ethnicity and body size which remains important to the CEO.
In addition to being authentic to the mainstream market, Young says she is conscious of where her products are produced and the textiles they are produced with. Ethics and social responsibility are a huge part of the Mary Young campaign. Young says the fashion industry is large, and in turn, has a large ripple effected on society.
“If I am able to grow something and I realize that the impact I have on the environment or society is negative,” Young explains, “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that.”
All materials are sustainably sourced and produced in Canadian factories. She believes it is important to feed the local economy and provide jobs for Canadian companies. The CEO says that this has been no easy feat. “The biggest obstacle for me has been production and finding quality production in Canada,” Young admits. “The fashion industry here has changed enormously in the past 10 years. With those changes, a lot of production has gone off shore.”
When asked what a typical day for her looks like, Young laughs, “it all starts with a good breakfast”. Young is a big believer in routine. Prior to moving her company into an office that is just a ten-minute walk from her place in Toronto, she says that every morning she would get up and have breakfast before heading over to her local coffee shop where she would grab a beverage and socialize with the baristas. She says this was the transition from home life to work life. But while she enjoys routine, every day looks different Young explains.
“The great thing about being an entrepreneur is how things are always changing and it keeps me on my toes!”
Young is always looking for inspiration and what she can do next to stay on trend. She says she often uses Pinterest, Tumbler and Instagram as sources of inspiration. “In terms of my designing process it is very fluid it is never really start stop.”
While working extremely hard on her business, she feels passionately about keeping some balance present by scheduling workouts or dinner with friends late in the evening to hold herself accountable. She not only blogs about self-care, but works hard to live a life her company preaches.
Young is not only a fashion designer and CEO, but she also actively participates in the community, advocating for entrepreneurship and creativity in business. You can often attend her workshops or conferences. She posts information about them on her social media platforms.
If not at the front lines of her lingerie business, grabbing a matcha latte or doing all things entrepreneurial, you may catch Young running down the streets with a tampon dispensing pop-up shop with the rest of the Mary Young team. Be sure to keep on the lookout for this working woman – because if she can make even tampons look trendy, there has got to be something exciting coming up next.
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