Canadian lingerie and loungewear designer Mary Young isn’t dismayed over the cancellation of Toronto Fashion Week. The up-and-coming entrepreneur sees new opportunities for connecting with millennial audiences and building a personal brand online. In our interview, she shares everything from secrets to Instagram success to why she keeps it real when selecting models for her ads.
ER: For people who’ve not yet heard of Mary Young, who are you and what is your brand all about?
MY: I’m Mary Young, the CEO and designer of my Canadian-made namesake lifestyle lingerie and loungewear brand. The brand fills the gap in the womenswear market to provide feminine and relaxed undergarments and loungewear that not only embody the modern woman’s lifestyle but also empower females to embrace their individuality and to refuse contortion into industry definitions of sexy. Think early 90’s Calvin Klein with a twist.
ER: Your website says your undergarments are for the modern woman – who is she, and what does she want from her clothes?
MY: The modern woman is really all women; she’s living a full life. She’s on the go more than not, whether it’s running from meeting to meeting or grabbing dinner with friends, she is experiencing and exploring her city. She also makes conscious decisions when it comes to fashion—never sacrificing comfort for style.
ER: From a materials and design perspective, how are you innovating undergarments?
MY: When most women think of lingerie, they think of lace, padding, and a lot of pushing up. When it comes to my lingerie, those do not relate. I’m innovating the lingerie category by marrying everyday undergarments (nude, classic pieces that are practical but rarely pretty) with lingerie (the more design forward and sexy garments) to give women the ability to wear something that has function and fashion. All materials focus on this, with super soft bamboo that wears and washes well to mesh and that doesn’t reshape but rather embraces a woman’s natural shape.
ER: What’s your retail strategy? (Where can people buy your products, and how do your choose where to sell?)
MY: My retail strategy really focuses on how my “woman” shops, so I offer our products both in retail locations as well as online. The focus from brick and mortar to e-commerce has really grown in the past five years, and the convenience factor that goes with online shopping is undeniable. When it comes to retailers I work with, I make sure they have the same big vision and overall aesthetic as my brand. I look at the selection of other garments and products they offer. Lots of retail stores where I sell also offer accessories, shoes, and candles—the perfect mixed-merchandise store for the modern woman. It’s important to know the whole picture that a retailer gives its consumers, as long as the store is fashion-focused and inviting, MARY YOUNG is a perfect fit.
ER: Let’s talk digital marketing. You’re big on Instagram. How do you approach this channel, and how has it contributed to your success?
MY: Instagram is such a big tool when it comes to marketing for my brand. Since brick and mortar was never an option for me, I’ve utilized Instagram as a store window in a way. To draw traffic to my website, Instagram has been a huge channel, providing consumers with an overview of the brand and encouraging them to explore more. It has not only connected me to potential consumers but also introduced me to other designers, artists, photographers, and influencers. As technology grows and more aspects of our lives become digital I think it’s really important to embrace these new tech tools and apps.
ER: There’s a lot of noise out there about how retail brands can use Facebook as a sales channel. How do you approach Facebook, and how does it fit into your overall digital marketing mix?
MY: Facebook is such a unique tool for selling and advertising. It definitely helps establish and grow a community. In terms of actual selling, though, it’s rare that orders come through our Facebook shop, but we do offer it as it’s beneficial to have a quicker buy experience. In terms of ads, we’ve rolled out a few over the past year but haven’t found them to be successful. This comes back to our target consumer: the modern woman is quite smart, and she can see right through a promoted post. She would much rather discover a brand on her own or through a friend’s referral before clicking on a promoted ad on Facebook. With that said, I think it’s extremely important to try out [different platforms] and see what works for your brand. [Facebook] is a huge tool for a lot of companies, so it’s definitely worth exploring.
ER: Is Pinterest big for you in terms of garnering web traffic?
MY: Believe it or not, Pinterest is a fairly large social referrer for our web traffic. Quality content is appreciated on all social platforms, Pinterest included, which in turn encourages people to click on an image and discover the pieces for themselves.
ER: Your Instagram account doesn’t shy away from showing real women wearing your collections. As a designer, what role do you see yourself playing in the movement towards erasing body shame?
MY: I personally think as a designer I have a huge responsibility in erasing body shame. I have strong memories of when I was growing up and feeling so negative about my body and physical appearance. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change my body, I changed my attitude. Which was the best thing I could have done. Not to say changing how I looked at myself was easy and I still struggle with it but it’s important to love every inch of yourself. When it comes to lingerie it’s even harder to encourage women to love themselves in their natural shape. Women are constantly bombarded with imagery they cannot relate to and in turn, feel worse about themselves. I like to use real woman to showcase our garments as these are the woman who will be purchasing the pieces. I want women to come across my brand and feel encouraged and comfortable, not to feel like they have to look a certain way in order to wear my designs.
ER: As a Canadian designer, how are do you feel about Toronto Fashion Week being cancelled?
MY: Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised to hear that Toronto Fashion Week was cancelled. It’s definitely a shift for the industry, but I personally think it’ll bring young and growing designers to light. Unfortunately, Toronto Fashion Week became quite commercialized and corporate; there was no place for small brands to participate without loosing a lot of money. Fashion in Canada is striving to cultivate small to medium sized brands that offer fashion-forward designs that can compete worldwide. I believe fashion is moving away from huge corporations that dominate the majority of the market to many small and medium-sized brands evenly sharing the market.