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!