Mary Young did what so many Millennials long to do, but often lack the courage to execute – starting their own business and working for themselves. Mary made the decision to follow her passion for design, transforming not only the narrative around lingerie and loungewear, but to redefine ‘sexy’ – the way women see themselves and experience their own bodies.
Having crafted a brand that so deeply resonates with her market, and strategically scaling that brand on social media, MARY YOUNG has quickly become a household name among Canadian Millennial women. The brand has become a community that goes beyond bras and underwear.
Here’s a brief look at our conversation with entrepreneur and designer, Mary Young, the heart and soul behind the growing Canadian-made lingerie brand bearing her name.
Over the last 4 years, you’ve grown MARY YOUNG exponentially, and even expanded into the U.S. What would you say was the most pivotal way you were able to grow, especially in the early days?
Hands, down, social media, particularly Instagram, was a game-changer in allowing me to share and spread the word about MARY YOUNG. When I started in 2014, Instagram wasn’t what it’s become today, you were sharing things instantly and organically. Now, we use it as a branding and marketing tool. It’s allowed me to connect with my market, and to bring the products to life. And, we had some lucky breaks as well – like being picked up by Refinery29 in the first six months after launch. And, that was a connection I’d actually made on Instagram as well, someone that worked at Refinery29.
Another thing that helped my brand immensely was working closely with Nike. They actually used me as the face of Nike Running when promoting their first 15k run in Toronto. I was running with them and involved in their community, and being featured on their social media took MARY YOUNG from 700 followers to gaining 1500 followers, in just one day! Once we surpassed the first 1000 followers, it became easier to grow. Now it no longer looked like MARY YOUNG was just a person doing something, but looked like MARY YOUNG a brand.
And lastly, I was able to gain exposure by gifting products to key influencers. Now, you often have to pay influencers to have them post about your brand in the same way, but I was lucky that at the time, as a new, smaller brand, I could work with influencers in a relatively inexpensive way.
It’s one thing to have a business idea, but another thing to execute on it. What steps did you take to bring MARY YOUNG to life?
It literally all begins with a business plan. Like, if I can’t write a business plan, then I can’t do this. Having that in place really is the difference between having just a “fun idea” and an actual business. It’s funny, because I’ll look back and think about how busy I was in the early days, but I’m not even sure why, because we weren’t making that many sales. But, then I remember that it was because I was literally spending all my time Googling things – learning how to build a business. I’d Google everything from “when do buyers have budgets for buying buy?”, “different production houses in Canada” – anything and everything! I was using that time to build a foundation for my company. I also went to the Toronto Fashion Incubator and bought their documents and templates, which really helped me understand some key elements I needed to start a fashion brand and company.
At what point, would you say, is someone is ready to start their own business, or work for themselves?
For myself, I knew that if I was going to be successful with this company, I’d have to go all in from day one. So, I threw everything I had into the research, and talking to other experienced business people to gauge where I had blind spots, or things to be mindful of, and so on. I talked to my Mom, who worked at Nokia at the birth of the smart phone, back when people first started sending emails on their phones. She didn’t necessarily have experience with fashion, but she understood digital marketing and business, so she was very helpful in the early days. I also received a lot of help and advice from some of her colleagues, who again, helped me navigate my business in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise even known to look out for.
So, I’d say after having done all that, if you feel at least 80% confident in your idea, your business plan, and your strategy, then you’re probably ready to pull the trigger. If you’re not quite at that point yet, you might not be ready. Or, perhaps your idea isn’t right for the present time, and you should probably wait to launch it. But, do your research, work on your business plan, and really get the foundation right before you move.
There’s a bit of a misconception today about what it means to be an “entrepreneur”. It’s become a bit of a sexy word that everyone wants to call themselves. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur, in your opinion?
Oh, absolutely! It’s not about sleeping in, coming in late, or being able to go to brunch in the middle of the week. It’s a tonne of hard work. No one saw me in the days where I was so overwhelmed and crying on the floor under a pile of underwear, haha! The bottom line is, if you want to be an entrepreneur and start your own company, if you’re not doing it for you, don’t do it at all. Don’t do it because it’s “cool”, or because of some status thing.
When I first graduated, I was looking for full-time jobs, but all the while knowing that I’d probably still have a side hustle and be doing something for myself – I just HAD to. That’s why I know what I’m doing is for the right reasons, because I couldn’t have it any other way. If you can’t stop thinking about your idea, it’s keeping you up at night, then you’re on to something, and you’re doing something right. Again, it’s not always easy, beautiful, and fun. It can often be that way, since you’re doing what you love, but it’s a lot of hard work, often long days, missing holidays and social stuff, but, at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.