“The Self Love Club really is a movement that Mary Young, the brand, powers. It’s not about buying Mary Young, you don’t have to own any of our products to be a part of the club. We focus on creating a space that opens up conversation around self love and acceptance to not only empower ourselves but also our community” - Mary Young
The Mary Young brand is one that embodies womanhood with authenticity and is creating space for women to explore self love on their own terms, specifically when buying lingerie. The Self Love Club was designed to open up the conversation of self love in an industry that often lacks representation and inclusion. Founder Mary Young sits down with RAD to discuss the creation and evolution of the “The Self Love Club” and speak to the benefits of curating community care and reflection.
Olivia: What did the evolution of self love look like for you leading up to the creation of this club?
Mary: I think when you talk about self love, and as you know it’s been a very hot and trendy topic the past handful of years, when I was younger it was very much about what self confidence was. You know, looking at your skills and characteristics you have and embracing those. That was the conversation I was raised to have, within my family. My parents were big advocates of learning about yourself, finding things you enjoy and investing in that. Just growing into you know, who you want to debut it never got to be a bigger conversation until I was in my early twenties. I was living on my own experiencing chronic pain, I had had a concussion in high school and suffered from Post Concussion Syndrome. That essentially just meant a lot of chronic pain and stuff like that and so I was in a strange mental place while on my own and I wasn't having those conversations that gave me the space to talk about self love. So I started to explore that on my own and really just learn about myself and challenge myself not to fixate on the negative things that I could easily point out about my life. I instead started to get intentional about focusing on the things I had despite the circumstances I had at the time. Once I started doing that I saw a huge shift in my perspective towards myself especially as I dealt with hardship. This began as conversation with friends and evolved of course since launching the brand, you know as self love and lingerie go hand in hand. We see how women are used as props and display objects within fashion and pop culture and that was something I wanted to avoid. Especially with lingerie, women are not there just to be viewed as objects of pleasure. Lingerie and underwear are the first thing you put on, it should be an intimate and positive experience for the wearer. It shouldn't be focused on someone else. That was the real focus of the brand and from there it was really easy to start talking about self love. Specifically, in the physical sense of loving your natural shape and embracing the different curves, valleys and crevices that your body has to offer. From there, going into what self love can look like day to day outside of just physical traits. So it could be, you know for the many who lost their job this year, how do you practice self love when you experience financial burdens you weren't prepared for. Or if you have moved and are working to build a new community, what does self love look like when you are outside of your comfort zone. That's been a really big focus for us is to start the conversation with physical self love and then transition it into a deeper sense of self love.
Olivia: Was that a conversation you were already seeing in the industry or was it one you felt needed to be started?
Mary: It definitely wasn't present in 2015-2016 when we began our focus on it. There were some brands that were talking about self care but I don’t think that self love was discussed outside of running a bubble bath and putting on a face mask. That's obviously become one definition of self love as of late, but it wasn't something in fashion that was a focal point. So it has been really great to see a lot of brands working on that and are channeling and curating that conversation.
Olivia: Something so wonderful about the way you have curated this conversation is the community aspect. Is that something that you knew would be important to this conversation or did this community naturally grow from individualized self love?
Mary: It was super important from the beginning. I didn't know how people would accept and embrace the community aspect, so I was really just having a lot of one on one conversations with friends and even with customers. I would meet customers and they would talk to me about how empowering it was to buy lingerie for themselves for the first time in their life. Especially how empowered they felt buying lingerie based on how they felt in it, not how someone would see them in it. I really came to realize that I was having these conversations and while that's so amazing it made me question why are we as a collective not having these conversations. Why are individuals having one on one conversations and not really making it a known thing. We all face these ups and downs of being in a good place, losing your rhythm and then having to look at ok how do I make my way back to that good place. I wanted to have this discussion as a community and as a community of both men and women. A lot of people think that this conversation is for women and often female dominated, but the focus is to get everyone involved because we can’t have change without everyone having a seat at the table. The more people involved the better.
Olivia: With that inclusivity in mind, can you speak to how you were able to create a company that embodies representation within an industry that often focuses on exclusivity?
Mary: It was the main focus of the brand from the get go. I was studying fashion at Ryerson, and looking specifically at the lingerie industry, I realized I never cared for lingerie because I never saw myself in lingerie. And I’m white woman, so the fact that I didn’t even see myself in advertisements says a lot. The fact that I’m not tall and blonde and the perfect kind of skinny turned me away from lingerie because I didn’t see shorter and curvier bodies that I could identify with. It was quite clear to me that if I didn’t see myself, the majority of people never saw themselves in the clothes that they buy and the brands that they support. So for me, from day one, I wanted to make sure that everything we did was representative real communities I see and know. I wanted to make sure that everyone I see in my daily life can see themselves in our product. That’s been big since the beginning and thankfully it's been able to grow and continue to cultivate that inclusive conversation around not only lingerie but representation in the industry.
Olivia: Quarantine presented a unique opportunity for you guys to further this conversation while folks were at home spending intimate and prolonged time with themselves. You guys hosted many virtual workshops and published weekly self care challenges and I want to hear about where those started and how they will pivot throughout/post COVID.
Mary: We started this year in January with the weekly challenges, mostly because I find for myself it's easy to get caught up in the business of life and lose track of creating time and space to stay in touch with myself. We thought it would be a good idea to have weekly challenges that move with you and maybe inspire new practices and get you thinking outside of the box when it comes to your self love day to day. So at the beginning of the year it was geared to give people the opportunity to find space and try new things that center around their self love and then when quarantine hit it was almost the opposite. People all of a sudden had a lot of time in their home whether they were working remotely or found themselves without work and a lot of people had to adapt to slowing down and spending time with themselves. Which can be so hard when you are not used to carving out time to be alone with your thoughts or alone with the circumstance of your life. We wanted to create a digital space where people could come together and try something new and challenge them whether that's a physical activity or conversation. As you know, some of the events were as simple as how to make a new cocktail but the point was to have something to show up too as a community and just allow room for us to be together. On the other side of that, some events were more tangible self love practices like understanding your energy or how to check in with yourself. We wanted to give people a variety of self love actions and also just provide some joy while we were experiencing quarantine. Even in small, simple ways.
Olivia: The Self Love Club also provided resources for the community as the Black Lives Matter Movement gained much needed attention on social media platforms. In what ways do you find self love to interact with and assist in accountability and unlearning? How have you been able to utilize self love as a tool for anti-racist work?*
Mary: As a white woman, self love has been huge in moving past white fragility and getting to the real work. I’ve watched a lot of white people fail to admit they are part of the problem even unintentionally. I think self love can allow real honesty when you sit down with yourself and take accountability for being a part of the problem. It enables you to see your shortcomings and pinpoint where you can and will grow and expand. Self love has a lot to do with humility and being able to recognize your imperfections. The highlight reel that is instagram makes us want to present an image of perfection. I think within allyship people try to present an image of “look at me growing but also look how close I am to doing everything right” and are in turn failing to do the needed work. For a lot of people the unlearning of what we have been taught and what's become second nature, requires you to get real about the ways in which you havent been an ally and the fact that your voice doesn't need to be heard all the time. You don’t need to be defending yourself or speaking to your own allyship. You need to be showing up to listen and hear and amplify and support and contribute to the solution. It takes a lot of honest love and compassion to those who are trusting you to be in that space and hear them. When it comes down to it, the amount of compassion people of color are giving us by allowing us into their space, while they face microaggressions and racist comments in their own lives, is overwhelming. We must be supporting them within this space they are gracing us with. It is a true group effort that requires us to listen and amplify and get very honest with ourselves as we unlearn and do better. Self love is a huge aspect of getting to that.
Olivia: Did this self love come from big shifts or aha moments for you or has it been an accumulation of small things?
Mary: So many small things. I find myself seeing the accumulation of them after they’ve compounded over time. But one thing that really stood out for me in my early twenties as a young woman is that there is so much weight on how our body looks, on our presentation to the world. I always found the ways in which I didn't measure up and I’m sure most women feel the same thing. So I spent a lot of time talking to myself in the mirror outloud. Which is not a very natural thing to do but I would do it every morning while I was getting ready. I would tell myself the different beautiful things and physical characteristics, it really started just on the physical level, continuing until I wasn't uncomfortable saying these things to myself. It eventually became well of course I love this and that about myself. You know I really began to believe what I was saying and I think it's a good reminder that words have power. The more you can speak things into existence the more you will feel the weight of the words.
Olivia: How has your own self love shifted or grown since the start of this club?
Mary: It’s moved from physical acceptance to the deeper forms of love that accompany things like losing a loved one and the way you show yourself love and compassion when your natural reaction does not include those things. Being able to check in with yourself and check the conversations you are having in your mind really hold a lot of power. For me it's been digging into what I am repeating to myself about myself and others and how can I ensure they are what I want to be hearing. It’s been super beneficial to me in a way that I didn't anticipate when I started this.
Olivia: Has the response to the club and conversation surprised you in any ways?
Mary: It has and it hasn’t. I know how important it was to me in my personal life but then so often we think you know I enjoy this movie or this book but that doesn’t mean everyone else does. So for the first while I was really surprised at how many people were receptive to the conversation of self love and the act of making it a priority in your day to day life. Now I find it not so surprising but exciting to see how people respond to it and find joy in a place that allows them to grow and learn about themselves and do it with others as a community journey. It really has and is growing and has become its own entity outside of the brand and garments themselves. Which has always been a goal that is not an aspect of the garments but its own very important pillar of community. Definitely not a club in the sense of exclusivity but a place for people who are looking for direction and support.
*This question pulls from the work of Rachel Cargle and the curated syllabi she produces and discussions she leads monthly for The Great Unlearn community.
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*images from the Mary Young Website