Psst, in case you haven’t heard, we just launched Girlboss Goods, our marketplace for curated products by female-founded brands. Here, we profile some of the women taking part. Next up, lingerie designer Mary Young.Despite being a lingerie brand founder, Mary Young would describe most parts of her job as unsexy. “It’s not just sitting in front of a mannequin and sketching all day, it’s marketing, web design, logistics!”
Mary Young started her brand just six months out of university, where she studied fashion communications. For her graduate project, she designed a lingerie collection that received a lot of positive feedback. “This was in 2014, when Instagram was just starting up. I was building a bit of a community and people started asking where they could buy the pieces.” Young spent some weeks looking at the market and writing a business plan when she realized that what she was trying to create—lingerie that was modern, unfussy, unpadded and focused on comfort—didn’t really exist yet.
Young launched her own e-comm site in the fall of 2014, but expected most of her sales to come from wholesale accounts and other retailers. “This was before direct-to-consumer was even a term, Shopify had only just launched. And yet pretty immediately I saw that most of my sales weren’t coming from wholesale but from my own site,” she says.
Young also started to organically build a community around her brand. “We started with pop-ups and markets in Toronto, “it was really great to remind people that these things are happening in Canada. We produce in Canada.” And it was while having those one-on-one interactions with her customers that made Young was reminded that shopping for lingerie can trigger insecurities in many women. So she started Self Love Club, the community side of her brand that celebrates body positivity.
“Just working in a studio making garments, with lingerie specifically, there’s only so much you can do,” explains Young. “You can really only reinvent the wheel so much when it comes to bras and underwear. So a lot of building my business and brand was about connecting to the community and having that positive impact.”
Young didn’t start to see true traction with her line until 2017. “That’s when I was able to leave my part-time freelance job and do this full-time. I could start growing and investing in a team, instead of having my friends and family help out.”
“Instead of focusing on growing a brand that gets headlines, [I’m] focusing on a brand that brings positivity to the people it attracts.”
Although she now runs a team and strives to bring the values of community to her workplace, Young doesn’t call herself a natural manager. “I grew up doing everything myself. So I’m working on stepping outside of myself and seeing other people’s perspectives.” To improve as a manager, Young’s been listening to podcasts—sometimes three a day. Plus, she says it helps her feel less lonely as an entrepreneur.
“Growing up and in high school, I had friends but I never really had those deep friendships, I was in my own lane, doing my own thing,” Young says. Now, she’s worked to surround herself with other Toronto-based entrepreneurs for support and connection. “The conversations I’m having with fellow entrepreneurs, they’re not fluff conversations.” Young also appreciated the ability to express frustrations with others who get it. “There’s a bit of a glorification of the entrepreneur by those who aren’t in it,” she says. “That you have all this flexibility and that you get to take all the money home, but the reality isn’t as easy. I’m like, ‘do you want to see my life? It’s invoices and pay stubs, emails and shipments. There are no cute outfits!,” Young laughs.
Running a brand over the course of the pandemic had its highs and lows: supply chain challenges, a renewed ‘shop local’ movement. But for Young, one of the biggest takeaways was focusing on her employees’ mental health. “As a business founder, I’m also the HR department. Mental health has been a huge conversation, I’m realizing how important it is.”
And when it comes to her own mental health, Young is all about slowing down and—crucially—redefining what a successful entrepreneur can be. “It doesn’t have to be this person who does five series of funding. It can mean having a small or medium-sized company where everyone feels supported not only professionally but personally,” she says. “And that’s what I’m leaning into, instead of focusing on growing a brand that gets headlines, focusing on a brand that brings positivity to the people it attracts."
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