I got a chance to interview my friend and mentor Mary Lai, CEO and Creative Director of MARYLAI New York, who, after a whirlwind couple of months, just relocated to LA to do art design for Bam Luxury Development Group.
VO: Mary, this past year has been one for the books for you. Your [almost] three year old brand has really seen a lot of growth; you had a mentoring session with Diane Von Furstenberg at the American Express Open Forum CEO BootCamp, two of your bags were finalists in the Independent Handbag Designer Awards [which you are a previous winner of] and you just relocated to LA where you’ll be doing art design for multi-million dollar homes as well as really working on expanding the brand. Why do you think this second year of your handbag line has been such a success?
Year two of the business had many milestones and, in retrospect, I feel very blessed to have experienced opportunities like winning awards, getting mentored by fashion icons like DVF, and being able to do what I love. Success is achieved by sticking with what matters through the hard times and giving it your all.
VO: Fashion is known for being a cutthroat business, but you are one of the sweetest and most genuine people in the fashion world I have met. What were the best lessons you learned when entering the fashion world and things you wish you would’ve known at the start?
The fashion industry in New York is very cutthroat and you come across all types of personalities, from people that will throw you under the bus to talented coworkers that become lifelong friends. When you experience the negative, it’s best to see what you can learn from the situation and move on. I’m a strong believer of ‘what goes around, comes around,’ so stay positive and hopefully your talent and hard work will shine through.
One thing I wish I knew from the beginning is that it is not an easy road, but all the hard work and struggle along the way will make you stronger.
VO: You’ve been in the handbag/ fashion industry for over 10 years, what were some of the most climactic or milestone moments before you decided to take the big leap and start your own brand?
Milestone moments in my career were working for brands that would win Designer of the Year and being able to attend fashion shows and fashion events that are always fun times. One of the milestones that changed my career path was working for Bruce Makowsky & Kathy Van Zeeland. They knew how to run a business and everything I learned there is what gave me the wings to take the big leap to start my own brand.
VO: As a business owner, you know the importance of social media on a brand’s identity and accessibility to your customers; what are ways that you try to set ML NY apart when it comes to social media, or the most important things to remember when posting to social media and handling your accounts?
Social media is such a great tool and it’s like a window to show the inside of a brand. As a visual person, I am drawn to Instagram, but I try to stay active on the other social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc…
It’s very important to have good content when sharing, be authentic, and always keep in mind the brand DNA and voice when posting.
VO: What advice would you give 20somethings that want to get into fashion that would really give them an edge if they eventually want to start their own brand?
Don’t rush it. Working for someone else allows you to learn more, gain connections, and gives you the experience that will help you be successful. My advice is to be a sponge and be open to learning anything and everything, because once you start your own business you have to wear multiple hats and know how to juggle jobs from design, sales, marketing, production and more.
VO: What advice would you give to yourself when you were in your 20s?
Everything’s gonna be alright.
Image Source: MaryLai.com