Underneath It All

We get intimate with Mary Young, the anti-Wonderbra lingerie designer

Antonia Whyatt

“I never cared for lingerie,” confesses Mary Young the Canadian intimates designer with a cult-like following. “I would go to The Bay and end up buying the same bra each time — then I’d get it home and cut all the bows off. Everything about it bothered me, I found the marketing sexist, I couldn’t relate to it. I thought I can’t be the only one feeling this way.” But it wasn’t until she was doing her thesis in the Fashion Communications program at Ryerson that Mary decided to take things into her own hands, literally. “My focus was the theory of pastiche in 80s and 90s hip-hop. All of the videos showed hyper-sexualized women in underwear and I began to think about what women would wear for themselves instead,.” Mary’s professor suggested that she design a collection to accompany her thesis. So she got out her scissors and, using a text book on how to sew swimwear, created the soft cup bras and high waisted underwear she is now known for. “In fifty shades of grey!” she laughs.

Most of us couldn’t just whip up a collection out of thin air but Mary has been making clothes all her life. “I was given a sewing machine for my 10th birthday, (before that I used a glue gun), and sewed as many of my clothes as possible. I made my prom dress and my friends prom dresses…anything I could get away with.” Her years of making clothes paid off, when Mary put her Ryerson collection on Instagram her inbox blew up with people asking where they could buy it. “I knew there was a gap in the market, so I started writing my business plan, it was longer than my thesis!” In 2014, less than a year later, she launched MARY YOUNG the brand that aims to empower women of every body type.

MARY YOUNG Contrast Bra in Citrine

Mary grew up thinking women could do anything. Her parents reversed conventional gender roles and her father stayed at home while her mother commuted to her high-powered job in marketing for Nokia. Home was a 150-year-old log cabin in Waba, a tiny village in the depth of the Ontario countryside, near Arnprior. “It was like the Secret Garden, we had a creek going through our back yard that we’d swim in, deer wandering by and a tree house. In the summer I’d listen to the sound of water, grass and birds.” She and her Dad would go out hunting and fishing together with Mary helping him track deer. “I never dreamed of getting married and having kids. I remember having arguments with people when I was young about the fact women didn’t have to stay in the kitchen.”

“At MARY YOUNG we are shifting the ideals of femininity and masculinity, and Latitude believes in breaking down the stigma around cannabis, especially for women, in a thoughtful and beautiful way.”

The values she was brought up with permeate through the MARY YOUNG brand. She photographs her intimate wear (she hates the word lingerie) on ‘muses’ versus models. Her muses are real people with real bodies and the stories that go along with them. She cares deeply about how the undergarments make the wearer feel, both on a technical level and an emotional one – instead of scratchy lace, there’s feather-light mesh and constrictive underwires are replaced by softly supportive fabric. The brand has become known for the Self Love Club, a space to share stories about self-acceptance. “We all struggle with self-care. We wanted to take that conversation further. Each month we focus on something new and deep dive into it; March was forgiveness for yourself and others, May was empathy and understanding, June is celebrating yourself,” says Mary. “We publish stories that allow others to live that different experience. What it’s like to be them, whether it’s being black, disabled, LGBTQ… it’s got nothing to do with out product, anyone can submit their story.”

“A collaboration with Latitude was a natural fit. We are two brands challenging the narrative, that was a key connecting point for both of us,” Mary goes on. “At MARY YOUNG we are shifting the ideals of femininity and masculinity, and Latitude believes in breaking down the stigma around cannabis, especially for women, in a thoughtful and beautiful way.” The five pieces designed for the #MYLatitude collection are flexible in their approach: From a robe that can be worn over pajamas or as an evening piece, to boxers that double as sleepwear and a body suit that turns underwear into outerwear. “They allow our communities to find what works for them, to grow more individually and choose what they subscribe to.” The collection is made out of sustainable rayon from bamboo — sustainability is at the core of Mary’s business, although she’s never shouted too loudly about it. All of her garments are made from OEKO-TEC certified fabric that isn’t harmful to the environment, or the wearer and has a long lifespan. Her commitment to sustainability extends to ensuring her products are made in Canada, in an equal pay factory and smaller batches so that she doesn’t over-saturate the market. She likes to see how her customers respond and then respond to their needs. For Mary, being sold out is much more positive than having to mark everything 50% off at the end of the season.

MARY YOUNG x Latitude #MYLatitude Collection

The abstract, leaf-like tie-die design Mary created for #MYLatitude is an homage to cannabis, core to Latitude’s natural restorative products that harness the power of our favourite plant. It also plays into Mary’s love of nature. “I look to nature for what it provides us, even when we don’t realize it, like peace, comfort, vibrance and life. I often bring those feelings into my designs and consider how the end product can bring those feelings to the wearer.” Although not a big pot smoker, Mary really believes in the power of the plant. She laughs about going through the ‘usual cannabis journey’ of experimenting with pot during high school and then rediscovering it later. “I was concussed as a teenager and have had to manage migraines and vertigo ever since. I turned to medical cannabis as I didn’t want to take medications that harmed my body. I wanted to feel and be at my best. I now look at weed through that lens, it can do so much more than just get you high.” Much like Mary’s intimates, which do so much more than just give you support.

You can find MARY YOUNG x Latitude’s collection #MYLatitude here.

MARY YOUNG x Latitude #MYLatitude Collection

Sorry, you’re not quite old enough to know if Jonathan Adler designs dirty but lives clean.

But we will be here waiting for you.

In this light it’s hard
 to tell how old you are,
 can we ask your age flattering isn’t it?

Are you of legal age in your province?