If there’s one thing you can take away from a Mary Young interaction, it’s that she’s genuine, and she really cares. Whether it’s a fine detail on a product from her ever-burgeoning lingerie / intimates line, to the quality of the images that you’re able to capture in your time with her…the attention to detail is impeccable.
I met Mary in an unconventional setting – through friends of friends, we all gathered to cook a meal for the homeless. She’s approachable, witty, and never afraid of a good laugh. We all preach the buzzword “authenticity” when it comes to brand building and marketing, but really, this woman lives and breathes it in everything she does. Offering up tid bits about how she grew her self-titled, Canadian-Made Lingerie + Lounge Wear, here’s how one girl made her mark:
For the raw, unedited conversation, listen below:
How did Mary Young the brand come about, and why was lingerie and loungewear a space you wanted to play in?
I studied Fashion Communications at Ryerson, which is more the business and branding side of fashion. In our fourth year we were required to produce a small thesis, and a lot of people were doing books and magazines. I had this idea to do a womenswear collection because at the time I was knitting a lot of headbands and scarves. I decided to do a line, and produce a video with all of my clothes…but when I was looking at the clothes I wanted to do, I realized I couldn’t just send models down the runway in knit sweaters. The student in me figured I could just do lingerie because I could buy lots of fabric that would go well with the knit.
After spending eight very grueling months learning about how to make lingerie and how it fits a human figured. I never used to care about underwear until that point.
So what did you used to think about underwear, and where did you used to buy it?
I’m pretty sure I used to buy it all at The Bay. My mom always took me there growing up, and I definitely used to buy them in packages for a long time. I think there were a couple brands there that I would buy. I have an anxiety about clothing that’s too tight. It always had to be comfortable – Calvin Klein, cotton, super classic designs. Very rarely would they be on the lacier side.
Once I started designing, I realized there were a lot of ways you could have a classic cut or shape without it being monochrome or simple / boring. I wanted to make everything exciting in a simple tone.
After the line was done, people kept asking me where to buy the lingerie, and I realized people might actually be interested. I still offer the sweaters (they’re hand made from baby alpaca wool) every winter season. They go well with the lingerie / underwear.
That seems to be a theme of what you’ve done – reverse engineering. So going from sweaters to lingerie, and marketing to designing. Eight months of learning to design versus the normal four years of school is still a stark difference. How does one do that?
One does that by giving up a lot of things. I have a lot of memories being at the school, at the lab until 2 or 3 in the morning (sorry Ryerson, I know I was supposed to leave earlier). I also worked two jobs and had an internship at the time, so it was a full course load, working, and doing this. But when I set my sights on something, and decide this is my goal, I will just do anything to achieve it.
“When I set my sights on something, and decide this is my goal, I will just do anything to achieve it.”
I had a textbook from my first year on basic pattern drafting. I bought a bunch of underwear and bras and cut them apart. I learned to use the special machine that you need for lingerie, spent a lot of time figuring it out, and I think the communications background helped me put together a cohesive collection, rather than just making garments.
It’s such an advantage – people think you build it and people will come.
Even when I was looking at the marketplace, consumers aren’t just looking at a product anymore, or a piece of clothing. They’re looking at what that a brand can give them. When I started Mary Young I wanted to make it more than just underwear and lifestyle. It was a mission and a revolution for women to talk openly about how they feel in their skin.
“When I started Mary Young I wanted to make it more than just underwear and lifestyle. It was a mission and a revolution for women to talk openly about how they feel in their skin.”
It’s about caring for yourself, and it starts with underwear because it’s the first thing you put on in the day.
How did you decide on the aesthetic of your line? How does that reflect on yourself?
The aesthetic is definitely very similar to who I am and my personal aesthetic. It’s definitely changed since I first started. My first full collection was in Spring 2015, and after that I really learned about colors that I like, what the market responds to. It’s about being minimal, cleaner lines than lingerie. A lot of lingerie is designed is for the purpose of someone wearing it to show someone else. What I make is to wear for yourself to feel good in.
“A lot of lingerie is designed is for the purpose of someone wearing it to show someone else. What I make is to wear for yourself to feel good in.”
The pieces work on many body types, versus the small model body type.
Fast growth is the main phrase I’d use to describe your brand. What is it like to figure out all the pieces to put together a successful line, quickly?
I’m still figuring that out. Fast growth is amazing but it’s not something I predicted. It’s something that I enjoy, I do all of the business operations for my company as well – accounting, bookkeeping, production and management. I was never really equipped with knowing how to manage all of this…so it’s a lot of learning, a lot of Googling, asking questions, and asking for help when I need it.
How does your clothing empower women?
It encourages women to look at themselves in a more positive way. I personally never liked lingerie before because I was intimidated by it. It was something that I never saw myself in, any store I would go into there were images of beautiful that I couldn’t relate to. Probably why I shopped at The Bay because it was just a bunch of bras with no visual advertising.
We all have our ups and downs. Being confident in who you are aside from your looks, based on your personality and what you do and how you treat people, is really important. The clothes really embody that, they embrace a women’s figure and work with a women’s lifestyle. If you’re going to put on something you don’t feel good in, it’ll follow you for the rest of the day.
You never think about it that way, often people just see it as a necessity.
Completely – you have to put underwear on, and the impression is that you just wear it and other people will see what’s on the outside (jackets, sweaters, etc). The moment you put on underwear is an intimate moment. You transition from being yourself to putting on garments, and if it makes you feel bad, then you feel like you don’t fit into the garment instead of the garment fitting you.
Canadian Comfort – why are both of these words so important to you?
Being Canadian Based is extremely important to me. I noticed that the industry changes so fast, and it’s actually getting smaller and smaller everyday. Canadian brands here are actually getting smaller or going elsewhere, and I don’t really want to invest in an industry that doesn’t exist here, so that the next generation doesn’t end up getting to work on it in Canada. I think it’s important to build up our economy in our amazing country. We have such talent here, and I would rather be able to put my money where I can see where it’s going.
All of the production is done in Montreal, and it took me awhile to find them. They’ve been extremely beneficial, and they’ve been in the industry for about 20-25 years. It’s where I would want my garments to be produced. I think the way to create opportunity in Canada is to actually stay here.
“I think the way to create opportunity in Canada is to actually stay here.”
It has nothing to do with quantities or when the time is right. I don’t plan on going off shore, I plan on staying in Canada for as long as possible, if not forever.
Your line is represented by many different women. How does someone know that your product is representative of them? What’s the feeling that I would feel that makes it individual to me?
With the new series I really wanted to stress was that our product fits larger cup sizes than A or B. There’s a misconception about support and the side coverage with bralettes. The larger the cup, the less supportive our bras can be because we don’t have underwire – but, we have elastics that are thicker than the average, the material is double lined with each cup. The garments are made for different cup sizes. We sold a few styles that recently a woman who was a triple D 36 purchased.
I try to make everything relatable, even if it’s taking a picture of brunch. It’s about treating yourself and having fun.