Mary Apple – Founder of Pretty Pushers

[quote style=”boxed”]”By pushing through things that are uncomfortable, I have found that obstacles which once seemed tremendous are now no big deal.”[/quote]

Mary Apple was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but relocated permanently to New York City after attending Pratt Institute’s undergraduate fine art program at the age of 17. She also briefly attended the Fashion Institute of Technology for textiles and weaving before starting her first entrepreneurial venture in Fashion…a custom swimwear company under the name Barely Mary.

In 2006, after getting married and starting a family, her business took a shift to reflect her life as a mother. Mary founded Pretty Pushers, a niche apparel brand specific to providing women with alternatives to hospital gowns for childbirth. Mary and her growing team focus on fashion forward offerings that function, while staying true to their pursuit of creating quality products within American mills and manufacturing houses. She lives in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood with her husband and 2 children.

Where did the idea for Pretty Pushers come from?

When preparing for the birth of my first child in 2006, I knew I didn’t want to wear the same used hospital gown that hundreds of men and women had worn before me. I tailored a yellow cotton jersey dress to wear during labor…and that was the first-ever Pretty Pusher.

How do you make money?

Pretty Pushers manufactures labor gowns and postpartum accessories for wholesale to boutiques and via our website, We sell in about 200 brick and mortar and online stores throughout the US and Internationally.

What does your typical day look like?

Every day is different for me, thank goodness. Otherwise, time would pass too quickly! My husband and I are both business owners (he is also in fashion), so with 2 young kids and no family nearby, we constantly play a juggling act. Some days I am in the office all day, and some days not at all, but I know that if I am at the park with my kids at noon, I will probably be working at midnight to make up for that time. That is part of the pleasure and pain of balancing my business and family!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I don’t have a formal sewing background, nor am I super talented with a pen…but I usually manage to start every new garment with fabric, pins, and a dress form. I will work and re-work a garment design, website page design, or brand poster design until I feel confident enough to show someone else. Then I ask for help!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

We love to watch colors. Last year we put out a bright green labor gown and this year we were so happy to see Pantone name a very similar shade their “color of the year’. And the color preferences of our international customers are very interesting, too. We tend to keep a color around until no one orders it anymore…then we know it’s time for change!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was 15, I worked at a burger stand on the boardwalk in Maryland. Don’t get me wrong…I got to drink chocolate milkshakes every day, so it could have been worse…but the constant customer service was exhausting. But the owner was right…we had to REACH OUT to customers…literally. He would have us yell out to people 20 feet away from our counter…”Can I help you, sir?”, and surprisingly, they would come over and order some fries. In short…it has been my experience that the old “build it and they will come” theory is not true…at least not until they know you exist. You have to keep letting people know that you are there, as a company, with a product, ready to serve. Otherwise, the next colorful lemonade stand will catch their attention and they will have never known you were there.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have gotten all of our funding before promoting the product. It was extremely hard to search for money while building the company and filling existing orders. They both dilute each other…whereas if I had made it my single goal to write a plan and raise the investment funds, it probably wouldn’t have taken years. And likewise, the business would have grown more quickly had all the funds been in place. We have everything we need now and it’s all being put into place, but the crawl to get here was long and hard.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I have trained myself to go outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. Don’t like planes? Book that flight. Don’t have time for that meeting? Go anyway. By pushing through things that are uncomfortable, I have found that obstacles which once seemed tremendous are now no big deal. That must be the ‘Thick Skin’ that everyone talks about!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Before I was pregnant and started Pretty Pushers, I had a small custom swimwear brand called Barely Mary. I would meet with individual customers, take measurements, and craft these complicated designs that incorporated materials from wool to leather to crystals….and they were all very expensive. I truly believe that Barely Mary failed because I was selling things that I myself couldn’t afford to buy. How could I talk a customer into buying my product when I wasn’t coming from a common ground? I vowed that my next product to market would be something affordable to the masses. It was 2008 at the time of the launch of Pretty Pushers on store shelves, and no one I knew…including myself, could even think about luxury. This affordability continues to be our drive today.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This is pretty far from our category, but something that I think about often. In New York City, there has been quite a baby boom over the last 10 years, and there are endless kids camps and programs. Many of them are expensive and crowded and related to the arts. What about an extra-curricular program (perhaps it starts as a private business but then becomes integrated into the school system) – called Back-to-Basics….How Stuff Works.

We are all pushing to keep alive music and art and languages in schools….but most of us don’t know where our electric comes from or where the toilet water goes. Why should this be saved for engineers? This is basic knowledge that we should all have from a young age, which will enable us to create modern solutions to everyday problems.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I want to see compost trucks like we see garbage trucks. Imagine if it became just as normal for cities to collect compost as they do to collect recyclables? I would love to see all trash in 3 categories…Reclyclables, Compost, or Hazardous waste. Compost could be an industry in itself just like other types of garbage…making money while helping the earth!

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

Just 7 years ago, I was still struggling with a bad case of generalized anxiety disorder. I barely made it out of the house to any social engagements, and was afraid of enclosed spaces and public transportation. With the help of my family, I can now walk into any crowded room or subway car! This struggle has also empowered me in business, for sure.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them? – Whether with work associates or my family, we eat out and order in pretty often. I always check out menus, prices, and the new neighborhood spots in every cuisine category on menupages before deciding where to grub! – we have just started using this service to provide quick website updates. They have simple pricing per project. If we just need a quick new image added to the homepage, tweaky can quote us a solid price and get the job done in 24 hours, without feeling like we’ve had to reinvent the wheel. – I use this a lot when composing anything written! Otherwise, I’d use the same word 5 times in a single paragraph…..

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Never Be Late Again’ by Diana DeLonzor is a must-read for many of us. This book puts perpetually late people into categories and talks about how lateness affects so much more than just the tardy person. I saw myself in there and so many other people I know!

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

We like mom/women/beauty/cooking stuff…but if you do, too:

@sophieuliano – green living inspiration
@wee_spring – our immediate NYC community
@nprnews – a little of everything interesting

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday, my daughter and I made up a list of words for a spelling test. One of the rules was ‘No Names”. And one of the words on her list was ‘Beyonce”. I said,
“You can’t use that one…that’s a name…it’s the name of a famous singer”
and she replied,
“No! It’s a word that means you’re going to get married”
“Oh, you mean Fiance?”

Who is your hero, and why?

I love Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Her startup story is similar to mine and I dream that one day, Pretty Pushers is as wildly successful as her sassy Shapewear. It’s so rewarding to offer other women something that makes life better.

What do you look for in a new employee?

I like to find the person first and then find the spot in the company for them to fill. If they have great energy, they’re organized, and they’re eager, then it’s easier for me to say “I have a job for you” rather than to have an empty position and fantasize about the person to fill the role. Often times in that case, I end up filling the role with someone who I wouldn’t have otherwise socialized with, and that just makes for a weird work atmosphere. When the person is put first, the right job for them will come along.

What would you do if you had 2 extra hours per day?

I would read! Not business journals or government employee policies…but just some good fiction. Nothing can offer a break from the every day grind like a good book…and it has been years since I’ve read one!


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