She is a 21st century goddess, in the most effortless sense of the word. She is the up and coming, twenty-something CEO and Fashion Designer, Mary Young.
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. The lingerie company named after the CEO herself, Mary Young, has exploded in popularity across North America. Product aside, Mary Young stands for self love and mental health awareness. She is a true boss and superhero to millennial women. I was lucky enough to pick Young’s brain one morning on her life as a Canadian CEO and Fashion Designer.
Q: What inspired you to start Mary Young the company?
It started when I was at school, at Ryerson University in Toronto. I studied Fashion Communication. I was doing a double thesis in my fourth year which coincided with the Fashion Design Program. So half of my thesis was in the communication program and half my thesis was then presented in a very visual manner and an actual collection was created to showcase all the designs. 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 – and I wanted to turn that into a collection. And instead of your kind of traditional contemporary streetwear clothes that you would often see in relation to rap, I look at all the visual aspects and music videos of how women were portrayed. And it was a rather sexualized portrayal. The garments were that of traditional lingerie designed from a man’s perspective of what’d he’d want in a woman – and none that was really celebrating the female shape and wanting women to be comfortable. So I decided to do a collection that was against the current trend of what lingerie is. That be no padding, no underwire, no push-up but lifestyle-based and practical. Included were long knit sweaters for a staying at home kind of feeling. We showcased that collection at my fourth year graduation show and it ended up doing really well. A lot of people were asking when and where they could buy it. I decided to write a business plan to really understand the industry. After studying the industry for eight months at school, I realized there really was a gap in the market for undergarments of this category. I looked at competitors and what it would entail to start the brand. After writing the business plan, I felt confident that something would take off. I then launched the brand five months out of school.
Q: How long ago did you launch the collection?
Four years ago.
Q: How come it was so important for you to take a more authentic + raw approach to say a Victoria Secret that seems to be prominent in the media?
For me, I always felt very separate from the lingerie industry growing up. Now, people always think I must have been lingerie-obsessed as a teenager, but in fact, I could of cared much less about which undergarments I was wearing – whether it was a floral print or a cheetah print. When I was studying the industry, I realized the reason I felt so separate from this industry is that lingerie is categorical supposed to be designed for all women. In reality, [lingerie is most often] very exclusive to one type of woman as depicted in common imagery and narrative – especially like Victoria Secret. If you’re not tall, blonde and blue eyed and the right kind of skinny than you’re not considered sexy. So I never saw myself or someone that looked like me or something like me in any advertisements or conversations about lingerie. Therefore, I basically removed myself from the industry out of self-preservation and not wanting to get caught up in that. I realized I must not be the only one that feels this way. The messaging that we 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 is not a realistic approach. I’ve always felt that fashion can make you feel more confident by celebrating your natural-self is the best way to do that.
Q: Tell me what inspired you to start the Self Love Club?
So Self Love Club is something that sort of came organically as we were growing the brand. It is not about buying a product or being a customer – it is more or less a movement – and anyone can be a part of the club. 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 mentally and physically. We do it digitally so we can reach more people. We have our journal and we do this through our Instagram videos where we feature women that we find inspiring – that are not traditional models. We have guest writers that share stories of experiences they have gone through. Our Self Love Club really started in terms of body positivity. Obviously we talk about the lingerie that makes the most sense. As the brand has grown we have also grown the Self Love Club to have many different things. For example, moving to the big city and having to make friends and learning how to stay confident.
Q: Why is fashion important to you?
I always knew I wanted to be in fashion – probably since the age of seven or eight and onward – so that was just a given. I actually did a year of studying Fashion Design at George Brown College in Toronto. After a year there, I thought maybe it wasn’t right for me. In terms of the size of Canadian Fashion Industry getting a job would have been harder – and understanding the marketing and branding side of the business would be better. So that is when I switched to Ryerson to study more of the Communications.
Q: Why is it important for you to have ethically sourced fashion?
I’ve always been consciously aware of where things are made. And understanding that fashion industry is one of the largest industries in the world and how much of a ripple effect it has. So whether that be a positive or negative ripple effect it really does spread far. If I am able to grow something and I realize that the impact I have on the environment or society is negative, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that. For me it is really important that everything is ethically produced. That the materials are sourced ethically. Even being made in Canada is really huge for our economy.
Q: What does your creative process look like?
A lot of my creative process is looking at what is online. Pinterest, Instagram, Tumbler. Really all sources online and sort of pulling together images. And usually they are more vintage and retro images. They are not necessarily the from what is happening today. But then I also look at what is going on today and styles were wearing – whether they be high-waist jeans to dresses and stuff like that. So that we are able to compliment every day clothing. I want to make sure that our underwear hits at the same spot that jeans are hitting the same spot or things like that. So that everything does fit seamlessly in one’s wardrobe.
Q: What is you biggest piece of advice for a women starting a business?
My biggest piece of advice is figure out the niche that you want to target and find the problem that you are offering a solution to. The best-selling products in the world, whether it is clothing or not, is very much about solving a problem. For me, for example, my problem was no undergarment was really built to make a woman feel comfortable in her natural shape – so our product solves that for them. In finding that will help you develop a narrative as to why you are doing what you are doing; and, why you are selling what you are selling. It will also create an emotional connect with your consumers.
Q: What is a day in the life of Mary Young?
Every day is all over the place! To be honest, it usually starts with a good breakfast. If my morning is rushed then the rest of the day follows suit, so I make sure to take time in the morning to eat breakfast and grab a matcha latte on my way into the studio. When I get into the office, I normally check emails first to see if anything major has happened and needs to be addressed. From there, it can go any direction from working on marketing goals, strategizing pop-ups and events, planning photoshoots, touching base with wholesale accounts, working on new designs, etc. The great thing about being an entrepreneur is how things are always changing and it keeps me on my toes.
Q: How do you like to give back?
I’m big on giving back and helping others in any way I can. I often speak at different events in the Toronto area sharing my knowledge and insight around business growth and strategy. I also try to mentor other entrepreneurs on a one-on-one basis when they’re in need of guidance. Within the business, we donate $1 per purchase to a Canadian non-for-profit that aligns with our mission of body positivity and mental health awareness.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle thus far in being a CEO of a fashion company?
The biggest obstacle for me has been production and finding quality production in Canada. The fashion industry here has changed enormously in the past 10 years and with those changes a lot of production has gone off shore. For me, it’s important to invest back into our economy and I make every effort to support Canadian businesses along the way. Thankfully we have an amazing production house with lots of experience in the lingerie realm but it was a huge hurdle to find them.
Q: Your go-to beverage in the morning:
A matcha latte, of course!
Shop the line HERE!
To check out the Self Love Club: itsmaryyoung.com
Follow Mary Young on Social: @itsmaryyoung.
*Disclaimer: All images in this post are from maryyoung.com.