This #GirlBoss is Joining Forces with Nike for a Female-Centric Campaign

"The Force is Female" launches a new iteration of the iconic Air Force 1

As women continue to dominate conversations social, political and cultural around the globe, Nike chimes in with its new “Force is Female” campaign. Centred on the latest version of the Air Force 1 silhouette, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, the campaign enlists a slew of women entrepreneurs and creative forces to model the new wine-hued sneakers.

The “Founding Forces” of this year’s campaign are Mary Young, Toronto-based entrepreneur and designer; Janet Han, entrepreneur, stylist and owner of Toronto luxury consignment store Fashionably Yours; DJ and graphic designer Karla Moy (fun fact: her graphic design company hustleGRL counts Drake and Lil Wayne as clients); and track-and-field athlete Alysha Newman, who just happens to be a member of the Canadian Olympics team.

Celebrating female success stories is one of our favourite pastimes and we sat down to chat with Mary Young—whose eponymous lingerie brand encourages women to embrace, not reshape, their bodies—about building a successful brand from the ground up.

Photography by Nathalia Allen/Nike Canada

What sets the Mary Young lingerie brand apart from all the others out there?
Growing up, I felt alienated when I would go lingerie shopping because I just never saw myself in any of those advertisements—I’m not tall, skinny or blonde, which seemed to be the standard or ideal for sexy. I felt that the lingerie industry wasn’t serving the majority of women properly, and I knew I couldn’t be the only woman who felt frustrated by this. That’s why I decided to launch my brand. Women were being told to reshape their bodies, whereas I want women to celebrate their bodies. So my designs don’t have any underwire, padding, or flattening or restructuring aspects. They embrace the natural shape of the body and are functional and practical for everyday wear. They’re not just for show.

What advice do you have for young women entrepreneurs out there?
My advice would be: calculate your risks. In life you’re always presented with different opportunities that come with risks—some smaller, some larger. Sit down and plan it out. Write a business plan. Get your mind thinking in terms of taking a concept and making it reality. Is the risk worth it? How much time till you see a return? You’ll never feel 100% confident but when you’re at 80 or 90%—go for it.

How big is your team, and what’s a typical work day like for you?
It’s just myself and two part-time employees, plus my mom, who helps with accounting and marketing. Every day is a little bit different, but a lot of it involves the back-end of running a business, which is the stuff that people don’t see. I check my email first thing in the morning and then grab a matcha or tea and head into my studio. Then I make sure to answer high priority emails – if there’s a shoot or interview coming up, for example. I check inventory, I do our social media marketing, make sure we’re growing the brand presence and community. I also host quarterly events.

Wow! So how do you keep from burning out? Is it hard to balance your work and personal life?
Balance is something I’ve learned comes and goes. I know that during a busy season, that balance won’t be there and I’ll be more focused on work than my social life. But I’m determined to schedule social activities with friends or family like I would a meeting. If I’ve told a friend I’m going to meet her at 7pm, I’m gonna stop working at 6.30. Another thing I do is work out and run a lot. Going to the gym and being physically active helps me find balance and sanity.

Speaking of being physically active: lets talk sneakers. The sneaker trend seems to be here to stay – why do you think that is?
I’m so thankful the trend is here! I have a bad back so I’ve always had to wear sneakers—it’s so great to be able to wear sneakers in a stylish way now. And I think it’s such a movement for womenswear, because women were once forced to wear certain looks – high heels – to present themselves in a certain way. But what you wear doesn’t help gain respect from certain people. As long as you feel comfortable and confident in your skills, you can wear anything—don’t put yourself in a box.

What are you most excited about with this Nike collaboration?
I’m excited to see how Nike has shone a light on women in Toronto. This city can often be perceived as a boys’ club but there are so many women doing powerful and important work. The Force is Female campaign is a great way to see there’s so much happening in this city, and to support women and build a great community.

The idea behind this campaign is The Force is Female. What does being a “female force” mean to you?
It means not letting myself get discouraged about being female in a male-dominated world. I know fashion is considered a female industry but it’s all men at the top! I see my femininity as a powerhouse. I might not get respect or attention right away because I’m a young female entrepreneur—I started my brand in 2014 at the age of 23—but I’m determined to prove people wrong. The biggest thing I’ve learned since launching my company is never to underestimate yourself.

For sneaker fiends who love the idea of a personalized pair, head to Nike’s Make Your Mark customization pop-up at Nordstrom stores in Toronto and Vancouver (or Los Angeles and Chicago if you’re across the border) from January 19 to 21 for custom engraving, dip-dyeing, stamped printing and more.