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Cupcake Mafia's CEO Built A $2 Million Dollar Brand, Then Was Fired - Here's How She Got Her Company Back

BOSS UP

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 submissions@xonecole.com. We'd love to hear from you!

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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