When Mary Young started her eponymous lingerie line in 2014, she envisioned making intimate wear for women like herself—those who wanted neither the “push-up, padded and lacy” garments nor the boring cotton briefs that seemed to dominate the market. “There wasn’t anything in between,” she explains. The then 24-year-old recent grad set out to design sexy lingerie that was also comfortable enough to wear on a day-to-day basis. In other words, lingerie made to feel good, not just look good.
It makes sense, then, that one of Mary’s latest marketing campaigns is nothing like a conventional lingerie ad. The campaign is part of her Self Love Club, a spinoff “movement” Mary started to create safe online spaces where women can not only share their struggles with body image but also celebrate what they love about themselves. As part of the mission, Mary donates $3 from every item sold to Raw Beauty Talks, a nonprofit focused on cultivating self-confidence.
Self Love Club’s home page features seven short videos of different women, each lounging nearly naked in a homey Toronto loft. The videos are undeniably sexy—the models laugh and play with their hair as the camera pans their bodies—but also refreshingly honest. In each video, the model’s voice-over describes what she loves, or struggles to love, about her body.
When she advertised the open casting call, Mary says, she was specifically looking for women who didn’t necessarily look like models. “The lingerie industry is huge, and it’s very much made by men for women. You have to look a certain way to be valued and considered beautiful,” says Mary. “It’s important to challenge the narrative.”
Olivia Jackson, a 24-year-old customer service professional who had never modeled before, responded to Mary’s casting call “on a whim,” she says, and was surprised to find herself disrobing in front of a dozen strangers and a camera several weeks later.
For Mary, building the brand has helped her overcome her own self-limiting beliefs.
“It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Olivia says, “I’m not exactly the most comfortable with my body.” When the video went online, Olivia initially didn’t want anyone to see it, but when she finally shared the link, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “The more responses I saw, I was like, you know what, I am freaking amazing,” she says, laughing.
For Mary, building the brand has helped her overcome her own self-limiting beliefs. She graduated with a degree in fashion communications thinking she’d go into public relations or marketing. “I didn’t really think it was viable for me to build a career as a fashion designer in Canada,” she says. Her senior project—hand-knit sweaters, with panties made at the last minute to pair with them—was such a hit at the student fashion show that Mary decided to take the plunge and start her own label.
Today, Mary’s collections of bras and panties in soft bamboo fabrics and jewel tones can be found at her online store and at luxury department retailer Holt Renfrew, as well as in dozens of boutiques across the U.S. and Canada. Clearly, her ethos of self-love has hit the right mark—just check out her loyal social media following.
Words by Cal Cook
Photographs by Nikki Ormerod