An introduction to the sharp, accomplished entrepreneur behind MARY YOUNG
By Emily McConkey

MARY YOUNG is revolutionizing the fashion industry with its focus on body-positivity, sustainability, and ethical production. Mary launched her self-titled lingerie line in 2014. I chatted with her about the brand, self-love, entrepreneurship, and what it means to be a female entrepreneur.

What is the mission of MARY YOUNG?

Our biggest mission is to encourage women to love themselves more.

How would you describe the brand itself?

The brand is lifestyle lingerie, which is a new genre of underwear. Think of your everyday underwear, like Fruit of the Loom pieces that you wear every day but don’t necessarily want to be seen in, compared to the lingerie on the other end of the spectrum that we would traditionally think of – usually black, lace, padded, push-up. It’s all about reshaping the body, the kind of underwear that you might wear for a partner.

We take these two categories and blend them together to fit your lifestyle. So you can wear it all day under your clothes and you feel both comfortable and confident. It supports your natural shape instead of reshaping your body, and you still feel confident enough to wear it for your partner. It’s something that can go from point A to point B.

What inspired you to create lifestyle lingerie?

There wasn’t a major inspiration specifically. When I started the brand 4 or 5 years ago, the body positivity movement wasn’t something that was actually spoken about much.

I actually never cared much about lingerie; I just bought the same bras every year. A big part of that was that I never saw myself in lingerie advertisements. I’m not tall, not blonde, not super thin, I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret angel. Unfortunately, the Victoria’s Secret Angel has been the primary image of a woman who “should” wear lingerie. I felt alienated, and I knew that, as I was researching the industry, I couldn’t be the only person who felt like this.

I decided to work on representing more people. Everyone should be able to feel represented and see themselves in media. My biggest goal is to make sure everyone sees something they can relate to.

Could you explain the Self Love Club and what brought it into being?

The Self Love Club is about your attitude and your decision to make space for self-love and encourage self-love in your community. It’s something that expands beyond our brand and lives both digitally and physically. We have events throughout the year, mostly in Toronto. Online we have blog posts and journals that encourage conversations about self-love.

It came about really organically through conversations I was having with our customers. A lot of women would email me saying they had never thought of lingerie as a gift for themselves. That they always bought it thinking of their partner or thinking “if I have this I’ll be more desirable, or finally be sexy.” It was amazing seeing so many women willing to change the narrative about what they believe about their bodies, but I also recognized that they still weren’t having that conversation with each other. It was something happening behind closed doors. It wasn’t an open conversation in a community where we could all relate to each other, so that was the fuel for starting the Self Love Club where we could encourage people to talk about these things.

What have been some unexpected challenges along the way to developing the brand?

When I first started the brand, brick & mortar was still huge. This was before the big e-commerce shift really started in Canada. I wasn’t ready to put up a physical store, and I still don’t have any desire to do so. But e-commerce can reach customers around the world at any time of the day. At first, I figured that it would be easy to collaborate with retailers first and I’d eventually turn to e-commerce, but it ended up working the other way around.

It’s been a big shift and it’s still shifting. Retail is changing really fast. Our biggest focus right now is making sure that our wholesale accounts are really strong and dedicated to the brand message, but beyond that, it’s about continuing to build out our site and doing pop-up shops.

You’ve got a great Instagram! How do you approach digital marketing, especially in regards to that platform?

It’s been great to create a narrative for the brand and to actually tell the brand story and mission to our audience and communicate to our customers that way. We make it very relatable and conversational. We want customers to feel valued so we try to take an authentic approach to conversation online that brands don’t always have.

What advice would you give women entering the business world?

I would actually recommend forgetting the idea that you may face more obstacles as women. If you can remove the idea that you may struggle as a woman and remove gender from the conversation, then you give others less opportunity to bring up gender, too.

I really never saw my career in terms of gender until being more involved in the entrepreneurship community. I grew up working for a lot of female-led businesses, my mom was the breadwinner at home, so I never saw women taking on a more “traditional” role, so I always just saw men and women as equal and didn’t have to think about it. I definitely had moments where I was made conscious of my gender, but I choose to look at myself as an entrepreneur who also happens to be a female.

There are some amazing opportunities for female entrepreneurs now that companies are starting to aim for better diversity and representation, which is great. But don’t think of yourself as a female entrepreneur and don’t call yourself a “girlboss,” because no male would ever walk around saying “I’m a boyboss.”