Cupcake Mafia's CEO Built A $2 Million Dollar Brand, Then Was Fired - Here's How She Got Her Company Back
With just one look at Mary Seats' Instagram, you might think you've come across the quintessential girl boss. With CEO in her bio, luxurious trips around the world, a fiancé and a cute bundle of joy on her hip to match – she seems to be living her best life and then some, putting the hyphen in multi-hyphenate.
But there's more to Mary than what meets the eye. The former Topshop head stylist got her name and her promotion to a new tax bracket from being the CEO and founder of Cupcake Mafia, a streetwear brand she started in 2011 with a mere $300. Five years later, Cupcake Mafia was seeing revenue of over $2.4 million.
While it's easy to take note of all the glitz and the glory that come with her success story, Mary's journey to bonafide #girlboss didn't come without its share of trials. One moment in particular nearly derailed her career completely, as everything she built with Cupcake Mafia was taken from her in the blink of an eye.
Mary went from CEO of a flourishing brand to being fired like she wasn't the one who created it. This was thanks to a business deal gone wrong with a company she trusted to help her after she secured a six-figure deal with Forever 21. And it was all because she missed the fine print. Six months later, she was able to buy her brand back and the creative entrepreneur has been thriving ever since.
As a badass girl boss we admire, we wanted to know the story behind Mary's success, the lessons she's learned, and how she keeps her eyes on her purpose during struggles. Here is her story.
Courtesy of Mary Seats
xoNecole: Before launching Cupcake Mafia, you spent your youth dealing with the emotional struggles of homelessness. How has that shaped your life as a black businesswoman?
Mary Seats: I believe everything I went through as a child gave me the resilience not to give up. It made me want to prove everyone that teased me, picked on me, or called me names wrong. I knew that I was going to be successful since I was very young. At first, I hid behind my brand. To this day, I don't think I'm the face of my brand. I wanted people all over the world to love the brand. I didn't want people to think it was an urban brand just because I was an African-American owner. When I first started, it was very hard for me. I had to work for everything I had. No one wanted to share resources or give information. With me being homeless and my struggles with my mom made me extremely resilient.
You were once afraid to share your life story. Why did you feel it was important to make the world aware of your challenges?
I was really afraid of people knowing my hardships. I thought that they would judge my success if they knew everything I went through. I believed people would be too concerned with my past that they wouldn't focus on my future. It wasn't until I spoke to a group of teen girls that had attempted suicide. One girl messaged me the next day and said, "Please don't be ashamed to tell your story. I was going to commit suicide that night and you saved my life!" I want girls to understand you can go through complete hell and still come out on top! God gives you tribulations to not only make you stronger but to help the next person avoid that trial.
Can you share details about your journey to success?
Well, I have been doing this for eight years, so there are so many different success stories. Cupcake Mafia was started in 2011 with only $300 and the first year I grossed $100,000. We hustled very hard. I was an extreme perfectionist when it came to my photography, videography, social media, etc. I was very particular about my wholesale accounts and strategic collaborations. After getting my business to $2.4 million, we were sold in over 1,900 stores and 49 countries.
"Cupcake Mafia was started in 2011 with only $300 and the first year I grossed $100,000."
We were at a Magic Trade show when we met the buyer of Forever 21 and she loved our collection. They offered us a six-figure deal. At that time, [we] could not produce that much merchandise at one time. Producing for a big store like Forever 21 is extremely hard to do and, if you make one wrong move, it can put your company out of business. With that big opportunity, it forced me to find a powerhouse production company. I met with tons of companies but there was this one company that really let me know they were serious about helping me grow Cupcake Mafia. I signed with them and moved my entire life to NYC. I trusted that they would do everything they said they would do.
Well, some people just don't keep their promises. Things were taking a bad turn within four months of working with them. They didn't value integrity or relationships at all, they only cared about the money. After a big argument, the board decided to fire me. That is one thing that I didn't know when I signed with this company is that I was a B member of the board. The A members were able to vote me off. I lost my company but I did not lose my resilience.
"I lost my company but did not lose my resilience."
I hired one of the top trademark lawyers in New York and we fought day and night with them. They wouldn't communicate with us, so I opened another store that kind of ruffled their feathers and started to get them to communicate. Six months later, I walked into their office and paid five figures for my brand. After that, I only had the trademark and now needed production. I went to China to purchase my own production factory to ensure that I would never get middle-manned again. After I had the factory in China, I then signed a big deal with Citi Trends. My wins just kept coming after that big loss.
Courtesy of Mary Seats
What are the three things you think every businesswoman should know to be successful?
You must read every single contract and have a lawyer before you sign it. You are only as good as what you negotiate. When you show up, show OUT! No matter who you are doing the job for, your name will ring bells and the world is very small. If you do one bad service, the word will spread.
Only start a business if you can imagine having $0 in your bank account and still desire to do it. There will be times when you will literally be on your last dime and you're still going to have to get up and grow that business.
How do you prioritize self-care in the midst of all of your responsibilities?
God has allowed me to be so blessed, that money just falls into my lap. My self-care is not accepting gigs that will stress me out. I only take on jobs I genuinely love doing. Also, my fiancé does pretty much the same thing as me, so we do everything together, which gives me tons of sanity. I find time for weekly massages and just enjoying life overall.
Courtesy of Mary Seats
If you had to choose a theme song for your life, what would it be?
Meek Mills' "Made it From Nothing."
Can you share an item in your wardrobe that makes you feel powerful?
My engagement ring. To know that I have been divorced and gave up on love but now have the man of my dreams is unimaginable. No designer items give me power because it can be gone tomorrow.
What is one thing you want the world to know about you?
I want the world to know that my ultimate goal in life is to show girls they can stick together. This is why I started The Icing Agency because I have the perfect team and the ability to show new entrepreneurs how to grow their business. I want to be the ultimate coach I never had. If I had a coach when I started, I could have prevented many thousand-dollar mistakes.
For more Mary Seats, follow her on Instagram. If you're interested in joining the budding entrepreneurs looking to grow their brand, check out The Icing Agency here.
If you are a budding entrepreneur or a boss in your own right and want your story shared on xoNecole, feel free to share your story with us by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you!
Joce Blake is a womanist who loves fashion, Beyonce and Hot Cheetos. The sophistiratchet enthusiast is based in Brooklyn, NY but has southern belle roots as she was born and raised in Memphis, TN. Keep up with her on Instagram @joce_blake and on Twitter @SaraJessicaBee.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Can’t Stop Seeing 333?: Uncover What The Universe Is Guiding You To Do
Have you ever needed a sign from God or the universe to just drop out of the sky? Then, before you can recognize the coincidence, you start seeing angel numbers like 333 on your microwave clock, gas prices, or even as the total on your receipt. Numbers hold a special type of significance and influence in our lives, cultures, and spiritual beliefs and are known to hold hidden meanings, serve as guides, and act as messengers from the spiritual realm.
And one particular number that has captured the imagination of so many of us is the angel number 333.
Breaking Down the Meaning of Angel Number 333
Believed to be a divine message from the angels, this numerical sequence carries profound significance and offers guidance, reassurance, and encouragement to those who encounter it.
The angel number 333 is composed of the energy and vibrations of the number 3, which appears three times in a row, magnifying its influence.
When we look into the power of the number 3 in numerology, it’s typically associated with creativity, self-expression, communication, growth, expansion, optimism, joy, and the Trinity, representing mind, body, and spirit. Thus, when encountered in triplicate, it intensifies the message and significance conveyed by the number 3.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Spiritual Awakening and Alignment
The angel number 333 often appears during moments of spiritual awakening or when an individual is on the path of growth and change. It serves as a gentle reminder that you are divinely supported and encouraged to align your thoughts, actions, and intentions with your higher self and spiritual purpose. The angels are signaling that you are on the right track and should continue to cultivate your spiritual growth in a way that’s in harmony with your higher self and purpose.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Embracing Creativity and Self-Expression
A major theme with the number 3 is its connection to creativity and imagination. The presence of angel number 333 is a call to embrace your creative abilities and express your authentic self. Whether it is through art, writing, a new project or hobby you’ve been looking to explore, or any other form of self-expression, your guardian angels are nudging you to tap into your full creative potential. By doing so, you can inspire others and bring joy and positivity into the world, and even uncover a new level of self-actualization.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Reclaiming Balance and Spiritual Harmony
What’s special about 333 is how it highlights the importance of balance and harmony in your life and that you have full access to it. It’s your own personal sign to prioritize your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being despite the speed and hustle-centric of the world we live in. Your angels are tapping you on the shoulder to encourage you to maintain balance in order to live a more fulfilling and harmonious existence with yourself, your loved ones, and your purpose. So take it as a gentle reminder to seek moderation over the extremes in life, or if you need to add a little more play where there’s rigidity, allow it to flow.
What Should You Do When You Encounter the Angel Number 333?
Remember that you have help outside of what you can see with your physical eyes. And while this angel number might hold different meanings for everyone and each stage of life, the thread that connects 333’s meaning is harmony, the divine support that surrounds you, and a license to tap into your inner creativity.
If you happen to come across 333 on your path today, pause and make note of the crossroads or rumination that’s been on your mind. 333 is a powerful number for manifestation, so take a moment to speak out or write down your intentions. You have the power to bring your thoughts and desires into reality, and your angel number and guides are here to remind you of that.
Trust that the answer you seek is within your reach.
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