Mary Young Talks Slow Fashion, Self-Love, and Entrepreneurship
By: Valeria Ramos
Mary Young is the founder of her eponymous lingerie and swimwear brand with a mission to empower women of all sizes. Founded in 2014, Mary Young is committed to creating ethically made garments in Canada with quality, environmentally safe materials.
Mary recently joined our Office Chats podcast to discuss slow fashion, self-love, and lessons learned from her journey as a young entrepreneur. You can listen to the full conversation on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or below.
How did the idea for your brand come to be?
I launched the brand in 2014. I was studying fashion communications at the time but had always been interested in design. From a young age, I loved sewing, knitting, and creating my clothing and accessories.
In college, I had a professor who encouraged me to do a double thesis in marketing and design. I ended up producing a five-piece womenswear lingerie collection for my thesis. While I was studying the lingerie industry in 2014, there wasn’t a variety of offerings, but rather two ends of the spectrum—black and red lace padded push-up bras or Fruit of the Loom-style packages of underwear that you’d never want anyone to see you in.
There was nothing that brought comfort and sexy together for functional lingerie that celebrated your natural shape. That’s where the concept for Mary Young started. When I showed my collection at the end of my university career, I received great feedback about the styles and inclusivity. I was twenty-three by this time and eager to take my idea one step further, so I launched my business about six months after I graduated.
How did you save up some of the initial funds to get your company off the ground?
My biggest source of funding was through a government organization called Futurepreneur in Canada which helps fund young entrepreneurs. The organization set me up with a payment plan, loan options, and a mentor. I also had savings that I put towards launching the business. I also worked part-time and freelance for the first three years of running my business.
What was the feedback from consumers when you launched your business?
A lot of feedback I got was from women saying, “This is so comfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever had underwear that has felt so good.” A lot of lingerie is designed to show the body and to others in a very narrow idea of what sexy is. But our customers purchase Mary Young for their own comfort and confidence before thinking of anyone else.
What is your design process like for creating new lingerie and swimwear?
I have always been a comfort queen. Even before I launched my business, I’d buy the same bra every year and always cut off the bows because I didn’t understand why there were bows on a bra. I was all about function—I didn’t think that I could have both function and fashion. So whenever I design new bras, underwear, or swimwear, the first focus is comfort.
That starts with the materials. The majority of our materials are OEKO-TEX certified, which means that they’re not harmful to the human body. The fabric itself is incredibly soft and has a long life. Our lingerie is made with bamboo rayon, so it has stretch and shapes to your body as you wear it.
From there, I like to have fun with the design, so we mix in mesh panels to give a little bit of playfulness, or add different elastics to add detail. I also love playing with colors! One of the best feelings is wearing a colorful set of lingerie, and no one else knows it except for you. You’re just doing it for yourself. We introduce fun colors every season but always include white, black, and gray options.
Can you tell us how you’ve made sustainability a priority in your organization?
I always wanted to ensure that when someone received our product, not only would the product be sustainable, but the whole experience would be as well. My role as a business owner is to do better for those that interact with our company. All orders are packed and shipped from Montreal, Canada by hand. We do not poly bag individual garments after production and ship directly to customers without the use of poly bags—this was a big focus to eliminate single-use plastics.
The tissue wrapping we use is compostable, the inserts added to each package are recyclable, and the mailers used are made from 100% recycled material, 50% post-consumer waste, and are fully recyclable/reusable. If an order requires a box to ship in, we use a cardboard, non-filmed box and add packing peanuts that are fully dissolvable in water.
In terms of production, we produce in Canada and have stayed true to that despite a lot of resources and factories going offshore. All our garments are produced in Montreal, in a factory where equal wages and conditions are met. Our customers can shop from us knowing that our ethical standards match our sustainability standards and know how our products are made.
Was there any consumer education you had to do around the quality and pricing of your sustainable lingerie versus fast fashion alternatives on the market?
Absolutely. We live in a very immediate world where everyone wants affordable things as fast as possible. Our price point is a little bit higher, but we pay living wages (enough to live comfortably, not just survive) as opposed to minimum wages. That impacts our pricing, and with sustainable materials, there’s more cost that goes into our fabrics as well.
We’ve made an effort to educate consumers about the quality of our garments. They will last for years and you can feel good buying from Mary Young because you know your dollar isn’t just going to a big corporation, but it’s impacting people within a community and supporting a small business.
Can you tell us about your company initiative, The Self-Love Club?
The Self Love Club is a movement that Mary Young powers. It’s not a club where you need to purchase our garments to get into, but a welcoming space where we have online and sometimes in-person conversations about self-love and acceptance. This initiative came about after having a lot of one-on-one conversations with customers about empowerment.
The Self Love Club is not just about loving your legs and embracing your curves—it’s also about understanding what self-love can look like through life’s different chapters. So we talk about self-love through trying times in life and how you can learn to support yourself and support others when they’re going through hardships. By making these conversations feel less taboo, we can all learn and grow as humans.
What drives you to keep growing your business?
My passion is making people feel good. That is what started the brand and remains its fuel. Life gets busy, and as a small business owner, I can get caught up in the day-to-day of running a business and lose the sense of entrepreneurship, creativity, and design. So when I get, DMs or emails about customers feeling empowered in their bodies, that reminds me of my mission and passion. Yes, I have to keep the business running, but the reason I do it is that I can impact others and help them realize that they are worthy, loved, and valuable and that they don’t need to change for anyone.
What is your biggest piece of advice for founders and entrepreneurs?
Maintaining a positive mindset is key as an entrepreneur. So be sure to surround yourself with positive people and find outlets that can be your remedy when you’re having an off day.
Being an entrepreneur is such a huge part of your life, but it’s not the most defining aspect of who you are. There’s so much in life outside of being a business owner and we can’t take everything too seriously. We should be having fun on the journey and learning from others. Listening to podcasts and connecting with other entrepreneurs is a great way to find a community that knows what you’re going through and can support you through it.