From the very beginning, dressing well was important to Mary. She remembers saving up for a pair of Guess jeans and splitting the cost with her parents. Their family didn’t have much money, and she was frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t simply dress exactly the way she wanted. But she had to have the jeans, and she made it happen.
This is very much in line with the Mary that I know. She knows what she wants and she is willing to put in the work to get-it-done.
Mary and I first connected over style. Having just moved back to Minneapolis from New York, I was pleasantly surprised to see her walking around the Target Creative floor. I remember actually thinking to myself “Thank God! There are people here with real style.” I noticed immediately her artful ability to dress professionally but in a really beautiful and unique way. In an industry where casual is cool and cool is king, Mary expresses her respect for herself and others by showing up looking like she cares. And she really does.
Caring about how I dress is an act of civility. I care about how I dress because I care about the people I encounter.
As any truly good designer, Mary pays attention to the details. She knows how to pull off pieces that some would shy away from – like a sack dress or high-waist wide-leg trousers – balancing cropped or oversized pieces with great tailoring and the perfect shoes. I’m pretty sure the first thing I said to her was: “I love your shoes”. She cares about quality and respects the cost. She embraces trends while staying true to the classic principles of style.
She looks like a boss – and she wants to be one.
Mary was a creative kid. Her mother’s side of the family was artistic and she got early insight into the world of design from her uncle who worked as a designer. But when it came time for school, she made what she felt was the “responsible” decision and went to Business School. She earned a Marketing degree from the University of St. Thomas and jumped into the retail world as an intern at Dayton’s. From there, she went on to work at Best Buy as a Merch Analyst.
During this time, she met and fell in love with her future husband, Craig, over long distance love letters. He was living in Chicago at the time. While their relationship developed, she became highly aware of the fact that there was no one at work that she aspired to be, and so she started to consider a bigger career shift.
It was during this time, that her dad, who she is very close with, got sick. She made the tough decision to quit her job, leave Minneapolis (where Craig had just moved to be with her) and move back home to Cold Spring and run the family business. As a young, educated woman from outside the construction industry she faced resistance from the men she managed in her father’s place. Despite the challenges, she implemented new hiring and training techniques and dramatically improved turnover rates, which had been a long standing problem. It was a trying time, but she knew she had made a positive impact. When her dad’s health improved, she decided to finally follow her creative calling and go back to school to study design, this time on her own dime.
After school, she jumped into interviews, but had difficulty landing a full time design job. She jokes that this could have been credited to her boldness in interviews and not knowing how to “say what you’re supposed to say” in those situations. She started freelancing and was happy to work solo and guide her own work and business.
Her design business was successful. She won awards, designed products that landed on the shelves at Target and made some really cool brands that are thriving today. But she became tired of doing all the things you have to do when you run a business like: Accounting, bill collecting, invoicing, estimating and sales. She just wanted to focus on the work. It was during this time that she was working on the logo design for MPLS Madwomen. When she presented the work to the founder, Alison Beattie, Alison’s feedback on how she presented was: “You’re totally a UX designer!”
Through their discussions, she came to understand what that really meant and that UX design was where she was supposed to be. It was this discovery that made her comfortable, for the first time, taking a full time position and committing to a company for the long-term.
To Mary, good design is thoughtful, empathetic and solves problems for real people. As a designer, you have to be willing to put in the hard work, and think beyond yourself and what you want to be true. You have to do the research and be willing and ready to try and fail…and try again. As someone who works with her, I know that she practices what she preaches, and it’s refreshing and motivating to be around.
As her career develops and she thinks about what’s next Mary says: “I want to give back to creative people!” She stands by the concept of “leadership as service” and the principle that “It’s not about me! It’s about what I can do for you.” Her advice to creatives: “Get to know everybody! Build your team.” I see this as the key to Mary getting-shit-done. She’s truly interested in everyone’s perspective, and puts in the time to hear it and learn more. I see this as the ultimate practice of respect. In her words, it’s all about “coming together and letting people do what they’re really good at.”
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Prince. We would totally get it on. I’m sure of it. Could you imagine?!?! It would smell like lavender and we’d have this perfect vegan meal. The whole time I would be thinking…what’s going to happen next?! I have a ton of respect for artists who can cut out the middle man. He was so innovative so early when it came to digital and his control of content. I love that he was always telling YouTube to take his videos down. I mean, he was right.
Would you like to be famous?
No. I like to be in the background makings things happen. I don’t need to be the face. I’m too naive about people’s intentions. I want to be known, like – “you should call Mary for that” – but not famous. No.
Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
It depends on the call. I’ve had some tough calls. When I had my own business, I had a client hire me for some art direction work. They happened to be a creative staffing company, but who’s counting? I did the work, provided them options and ideas. They never got back in touch and then they totally stole my work! My lawyer confirmed my suspicions. So, I called the CEO and told them: “I will shut down your website!” I rehearsed for that one! When it’s a business thing, you need to site the right rules, and know what you’re doing. So in a business situation, yes, I’ll rehearse. When I feel like I’ve been wronged, yes! I have to balance my emotions with my logic and need to get my point across.
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
I don’t know the answer to this one. I don’t think there is a perfect day. I really like going on vacation with Craig. We found this place in Mexico that is perfect. We sleep in, have breakfast, go to the pool, drink cocktails, etc. It’s so simple. I guess it’s perfect. To me this is perfect right now, sitting at a beautiful place with you, drinking rosé, and having a great conversation.
When did you last sing yourself? To someone else?
Every day. I sing to my dog. “Are you going to eat today?” Anything you would state as a question, I’ll sing. I sing in my car all the time. I hum a lot in the kitchen. I find myself at the gym singing out loud with headphones on. I love music. Sometimes I sing and dance in front of Craig just to make him smile.
If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
I honestly want to keep my body. I think it would be amazing to lose my mind because I don’t want to give a shit! It sounds cathartic! I think it would be so hard not being able to move. It’s my meditation. It’s how I get my head straight.
Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
Totally a stroke. It runs in my family and sometimes, I have these moments where something will fall asleep and I’m like “Oh god this is it”.
Name 3 things you and your husband have in common.
Absolutely nothing. Seriously, on the surface we are opposites. What we do have in common is our lifestyle philosophy. Our support for each other in our ambitions. His art is computer programming and he fully supports me and my art. “Be the boss! Draw the pictures!” Mutual respect for what we want to do. At the end of the day, we value the same things.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish we weren’t poor when I was growing up. Man, you carry that shame with you forever. We didn’t start out poor, we just lost everything. I returned home from a slumber party one morning and people were moving our stuff into another house across the street. It got worse after that and we had to live in a really shitty place. Being embarrassed about where you live and having the whole town know because it was a fall from grace, was torture. You know that scene in Pretty in Pink when Blane asks where Andie lives so he can bring her home, and she says that she doesn’t want him to see where she lives? I lived that. It’s still painful to think about.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Hip hop dancing. I was in color guard and shit. You learn choreography. I miss learning a routine. I love synchronized dancing!