There was a pause in a hectic day that came from a text received from designer and stylist, Mary Francis. “Can you talk for a second? I have something I’m working on.” While she keeps us regularly in the loop on what’s happening style wise, there was an unexplainable weight to this that I knew I had to immediately jump on a call. Mary always has a tone of intense enthusiasm when we speak about the sports and fashion industry, but this call was different. It was right on the brink of the release of the custom shorts she designed for WNBA star Ty Young. The design was intricate, the meaning just as much. This call veered from the usual gushing from Mary of her client’s style and accomplishments to picking at the edges of a deeper story; a personal one that’s woven amongst those she aids in telling with her clients’ looks. The next day, we met for coffee, diving into not only the direction of Ty’s shorts and what it means for Mary’s brand, but the raw, personable side that she rarely shares with the public.
While her homebase is now Los Angeles, Mary’s career began after college in Boston as a buyer, and eventually making her way to New York to further her experience on the business side of fashion. “I always knew I wanted to do my own thing but I thought it was important to experience every area of the industry, so I just took my time.” How Mary got to the point of styling and creating custom pieces for professional athletes comes down to mutual admiration and respect for passions. “They’re just so focused, so disciplined. They’ve had to break through, there are so many athletes in the world but how many become professional. I feel for me, I vibe well with athletes and that world. It takes a special person to be a professional athlete and they have this certain special drive that others don’t have and that is how I feel about fashion and my life so I relate to that.”
“I thought it (my brand) was going to be a more female driven brand, because I wear unisex clothes. And then once I launched, I realized it was all males, all men wanted it,” Mary reveals about the inception of her brand. It was her desire to add a signature item to the line, the custom basketball shorts that triggered the attention of pros across the league. “I think the cool thing about my shorts is that they’re all one blend, and so what I’m trying to and what I’m capable to do at this point in the brand because I have full control and I do everything from sourcing the jerseys, I do every single step.” Initially making shorts for Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, Shai Gilgreous-Alexander was the first pro to reach out personally to order a pair.
Styling Clippers’ rookie Terrance Mann this past season also allowed Mary to create the first game worn custom shorts, piecing together his story with his style. The reveal of that tunnel fit, brought WNBA pro, Ty Young to inquire about getting a pair for herself. “I was so excited because it was a female and I love it so much. Then, she sent me her jerseys, which were amazing. Hers were different because she had so many different colors and I had to make it work, cause they have to look good.” The shorts complimented Ty’s style to a T, who defines her ‘TY Swag’ as ‘Tomboy, chic, fly.’ “I utilize fashion as a way to express myself. My mood determines what I wear. My mind thinks and creates all the time; so whatever I envision in my head I put on.”
This design felt special to Mary. A nod to not only her early visions for her brand, but as she admits, the continuous struggles to prove not only her talent, but her intentions. “My circle is very small. A Lot of people don’t know my personal life. People know what they need to know. I think it’s hard for females because people will judge and I don’t need people to judge, but I do wish people knew me at my core.”
As we continued to dive into the misconceptions associated with her job, I could feel Mary teetering at flat out saying what my intuition was telling me she yearned to reveal. As she danced around the “breaking intentions” questions, I flat out inquired if the amount of criticism she received was mostly from women. From that, there was an exhale of relief that was sliced, a raw reveal of the reality that support for female entrepreneurs from other women is still vastly far from perfect. “I received so much hate. From females. And it’s insane to me especially today when everyone is ‘females stick together’ but I feel females are my biggest, I thought females would be a big part of my brand, but they’re like my biggest haters and I remember there was a point in time where I got hit with crazy dms. Someone was like ‘you’re a huge disgrace to Maine’ and I’m like to Maine? The state? And now I just laugh about it, now I’m used to it, but sadly that’s what our world is, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy say anything bad to me.”
IT’S NOT EASY. I CRY MORE TIMES IN A WEEK THAN I DON’T CRY. HAVING A BRAND IS SO STRESSFUL, ESPECIALLY SINCE I’M SELF FUNDED. MONEY STRESSES ME OUT SO MUCH. MY LIFE IS NOT PERFECT AT ALL. I JUST TRY TO STAY GROUNDED AND KEEP GOOD PEOPLE AROUND YOU.NOT THAT THERE’S A FIRM ANSWER ON THE ‘WHY’ BEHIND THE HATE FROM STRANGERS, BUT I PRESSED MARY ON WHY SHE THINKS IT’S THIS WAY AND HOW WE CAN CHANGE THE NARRATIVE. “I REALLY WISH I HAD AN ANSWER BECAUSE IT’S SAD. BUT I THINK IT’S A PROBLEM OBVIOUSLY, BUT IF PEOPLE WOULD JUST BE ABOUT THEIR OWN BUSINESS AND PUT ENERGY INTO WHAT THEY’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT, THEN THEY WOULDN’T EVEN HAVE TIME TO DO THAT. I WOULD NEVER DO THAT BECAUSE I’M BUSY, I’M FOCUSED ON GOING SOMEWHERE.”
While it’s easy to believe we’ve come a long way in supporting women’s ambitions, reality is, like Mary’s experiences, there’s often an emphasis on dialogue with a lack of true action. “I think that it’s human nature to compare yourself, especially with social media. But for me, going back to that confidence, the people who are in my life have given me this sense of confidence so I’m not comparing myself. In the beginning 100%, I wanted to be this person or that person, I was constantly comparing. Definitely the people in my life have changed that and have given me this sense of confidence. I’m not comparing myself personally and professionally, I’m creating my own way.”
Fueling confidence through fashion is a tactic both Mary and Ty share. Ty tells us, “I developed my confidence overtime from believing in myself. It got to a point in my life where I stopped trying to please others and did what made me happy. My style is also a way of my life. I believe confidence goes hand in hand. Some people will like you and some won’t. Same for style, some people will like your style and some won’t. So with me, doing what makes me happy, I don’t care what others think about how I dress. I dress to impress myself.”
Mary’s Mantra is, “I can do anything, I will do anything.” The intent to focus on the positive aspect within her control, leads to an opportunity to actually wholeheartedly support herself and others through actions, not words; something I think we can all implement into how we function as a community.