Behind the Seams with Mary Francis
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.”
“The shorts fit into my overall style because they are unique and different. I knew my different jerseys would bring a mixed color scheme to them to make them different. Mary did a wonderful job designing them,” she tells us. Ty’s vision was also Mary’s biggest challenge, “The only vision I had for the shorts were to send her different color jerseys from all my teams. The other shorts I’ve seen her create were one team of different jerseys, so the color scheme stayed the same.” Challenge aside, this collaboration fueled a contagious level of passion from Mary. “I must say, probably one of the most challenging shorts I’ve made just because of all the different colors and just getting it to vibe well and I think it came out amazing, Ty killed it.”
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.”
“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.”