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Fashion flourishing online

Mary and Mason directors Sophie Mary Stevens and Charlotte Mason. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Two young entrepreneurs who met in design classes at the age of 13 now run a successful sustainable online clothing label out of an office in Greytown.

At 21 years old, Sophie Mary Stevens and Charlotte Mason were realising the ambition they had always joked about while growing up in Wairarapa.

Within 15 minutes of the launch of their company Mary and Mason on August 7, they had only a handful of tees and jackets remaining.

It was last year’s lockdown that galvanised the duo into action.

Despite their initial rush of sales, Stevens and Mason were not taking success for granted.

“We’re working really hard to make this dream of ours a reality,” Mason said.

That dream started life as a joke they shared in class.

They met in Year 9 at St Matthew’s Collegiate School. Mason was a boarding student from Wellington, and Stevens became her first “day-girl” friend.

Both girls steered away from more ‘academic’ subjects and found themselves in painting, sewing, design, and other creative classes together.

They were both dyslexic, and found their strengths in subjects where they could express themselves without words.

“We definitely had a different perspective on life than a lot of other students,” Stevens said.

After school they had each gone on to further study, but ended up dropping out of university, uninspired and low on self-esteem.

“We were both in bad places,” Stevens said. “It was very hard for us to know what we wanted to do and we couldn’t find a meaning in the study.”

Stevens was studying fashion at Otago Polytechnic but abandoned it after the first year. She then did a stint in business studies but also dropped out.

Meanwhile, Mason embarked on a gap year in the UK before coming home to study design at Massey University. She also dropped out after her first year.

Leaving university, she thought it would be too risky to launch a business without any credentials or qualifications behind her name.

Ironically, last year’s lockdown provided the impetus the duo needed to make things happen.

With an excess of time to reflect on what they wanted out of life, they realised the joke they had shared was not so absurd.

They started sharing design ideas and talking seriously about the project.

But Mason and Stevens realised they did not want to create just another fashion store.

Instead, they aimed to build a platform where people could talk about their uncertainties, identify personal struggles, and share advice.

On the Mary and Mason website, they were frank about the obstacles they had faced:

“The relationship between personal identity, mental health and the fashion industry is something we want to talk about openly. As two dyslexic people we struggle to put words to our feelings.”

When it came time to build the website, the duo teamed up with Masterton-based marketing manager Dean Napier, whose side venture Spang Digital had also sprung up during last year’s lockdown.

Napier helped Mary and Mason with the customer-facing side of their website, as well as their reporting processes, enabling them to make decisions based on real data.

He helped Mason and Stevens to identify the sort of experience they wanted for their customers, and then helped to make it come to life.

For Mary and Mason, that experience was not just about buying clothing.

“They want to sell products, but they also want to be a platform where they can talk about the design process and social topics,” Napier said.

Days after their launch party they were left with only one t-shirt and three jackets in stock.

“We were just going out for it and hoping for the best,” Mason said. “So we were really stoked when it went much better than we were even hoping for.”

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