Q&A with Toronto-Based Entrepreneur and Lingerie Designer MARY YOUNG
I conducted this Q&A with Style Nine to Five. The original interview can be found here.
In a world where women are constantly judged by their size and appearance, feeling sexy and confident in one’s own skin can come as a struggle. Thankfully there are brands like MARY YOUNG – a lingerie and loungewear line – that praise females for their differences and empower women to feel comfortable with their bodies.
Style Nine to Five spoke to the designer, entrepreneur and boss babe behind the brand last year, but we wanted to check in and see what’s on the horizon for MARY YOUNG. After speaking with Mary, I learned that she is showing no signs of slowing down and that there are big things happening this year for the Toronto-based lifestyle brand.
SNTF: When we last spoke with you, you mentioned that MARY YOUNG was created while you were studying at Ryerson University for your thesis. What made you decide to turn MARY YOUNG into a business?
MY: During my thesis, I spent hours on end studying the fashion industry, specifically the lingerie market and it was clear that the majority of women weren’t being portrayed in the content or the style of garments. Almost everything I saw was push up, padding, underwire and a ‘standard’ type of sexy. I never felt like I could relate to anything I saw and realized that the message was if you bought this bra or wore that set then you’d be sexy, which I couldn’t agree with. I realized that all the women that didn’t see themselves in these garments and imagery needed to be able to relate to what they saw. That was the true motivation to start MARY YOUNG and encourage women to embrace their natural shape and to define sexy for themselves.
SNTF: Your business has grown so much since you first launched. What have been the biggest obstacles? How about Triumphs?
MY: Growth has been amazing but like any growth there are always pains. The biggest would have to be production and sourcing everything within Canada. The fashion industry here is getting smaller and smaller, especially when it comes to production. It took quite some time and trial and error to find the production that I work with now but all that hard work has paid off. Another major struggle is growing as a small brand with little to no budget and team. Looking at these large companies that can gift products and advertise so easily really make it tough for growing brands to find a foothold in the industry. With time and perseverance, it does happen though, patience truly is a virtue. Some of the biggest triumphs would be hearing how women feel about themselves after buying pieces. The feedback has been extremely motivating and is really what keeps me going forward. Another huge accomplishment has been having one of the new spring styles on Winnie Harlow for the February cover of Elle Canada.
SNTF: Now that the first month of the new year complete, what do you hope to accomplish in 2017?
MY: So much has already happened in one month that is leading to so many exciting things later this year. The brand has grown a lot and there will be a lot of changes happening in the next few months. I don’t want to give too much away but keep your eye out for more than just new products!
SNTF: What is the most challenging part of running your own business? How do you keep yourself from getting burnt out?
MY: The most challenging part is everything falls on my shoulders, not only the small decisions like the Instagram captions but to where our budget will go and what takes priority every day. It’s hard to balance everything out and still remain excited and motivated. I’ve found stepping away from work to be the best way to not get burnt out and surprisingly it helps me get more done too. The distance and separation helps me clear my head so I’m refreshed when I come back to dealing with everything. I also find working out to be an extremely beneficial stress relief. The ability to get out all my anxiety, stress and frustration while getting stronger is such an amazing feeling, not to mention it gives me more energy!
SNTF: How do you stay creatively inspired?
MY: The best way I stay inspired is to continuously surround myself with design; that can be anything from visiting museums to interesting coffee shops to Tumblr. Opening myself up to different styles and inspirations is important to challenge myself to grow and to refine what the brand really stands for. Also, having creative friends that challenge me on my ideas and help push me forward is extremely helpful.
SNTF: You’re living proof of a true boss babe. How do you handle work/life balance?
MY: First off, thank you! Balance is something that comes and goes, my friends can truly attest to that. Depending on what season I’m in, whether it’s a seriously busy time of year or not, I likely won’t be completely balanced. I do make sure to take time off from work and spend it with friends. I do that by scheduling in social plans as I would a meeting. I don’t allow myself to miss seeing friends if we make plans and I hold myself accountable to my personal life the same way I do my professional life. One of the best ways to find balance is to not be too hard on yourself when you don’t have it, this shouldn’t be another area of stress, like everything it comes in time.
SNTF: Your brand seems to really be blowing up on Instagram. How has social media contributed to MARY YOUNG’s success?
MY: I personally believe without social media MARY YOUNG wouldn’t still be around. As a small company, there is almost no budget for advertising and that’s where Instagram has come into play. I’ve been able to meet other creatives, photographers, models and media through social media. It’s also been a great way to build the brand and connect with everyone, growing a community is tough as it is but with Instagram it’s so much easier to have a place for everyone to see the brand and get the latest news.
SNTF: In the world of lingerie, it can be difficult to stay ahead of the game. How is MARY YOUNG different and what sets it apart from other companies like it?
MY: MARY YOUNG focuses on women and their natural shape, something that a lot of lingerie lines don’t focus on. All our pieces are made with bamboo jersey that is extremely soft and wears well, this means comfort comes first and design comes second. Encouraging women to embrace their natural shape and to focus on their own definition of sexy is a really integral part of the brand. After all, when a woman feels comfortable and confident, she is undeniably sexy.
SNTF: We LOVE that you feature real women wearing your products and that you focus on empowering women to embrace their bodies. What’s the reasoning behind this?
MY: The main reasoning is to really grow confidence among all women and acceptance towards not only ourselves but to everyone. We focus on inclusivity because when women support each other we can do amazing things. I want everyone to feel like they can relate to MARY YOUNG and see themselves in the images we use. Without that, there isn’t a point to do what we’re doing.
SNTF: What is your favourite part of running your own business? What about the hardest part?
MY: My favourite part is seeing all my hard work come together and create something. The late nights and weekends sacrificed all mean something when a new collection comes out and is well received or when I get a message on Instagram from a customer saying how much she loves her new piece. The hardest part is doing it alone, as humans we are designed to be a part of something bigger and have a community, so making all the decisions, big or small, and traveling to meet new buyers and sell the product can be exhausting alone. I’m so thankful for friends and family that continue to support me along the way.
SNTF: What professional advice would you give to up and coming designers who are looking to start their own business?
MY: I would definitely recommend planning it out first, whether that’s with a business plan or a strategy for how you envision the business to grow. Without a strong plan, it’s really hard to execute everything and make sure timelines match up to buying calendars and production schedules. Once you feel like you have a solid plan, talk it through with people you respect and trust. Feedback from people that you trust is definitely important in the beginning stages, you’ll continue to come back to them as the business grows too.
SNTF: And finally, what’s next for MARY YOUNG?
MY: The business is growing and we’re so excited to keep up with that growth. It would be great to expand into other categories but at this point we’re focusing on continuing what we’re doing and doing it well. I also hope to expand the mission of MARY YOUNG to really grow the community and following through different events.