On Monday, March 15, the Binghamton-based clothing brand The Public Ivy announced their newest project, “Mein Bowl Mary University,” on social media. The announcement of a clothing collection inspired by Mein Bowl employee and manager, Mary Chu, marks the start of a hectic two weeks to come for the student-run clothing brand co-founded by juniors Giancarlo Mertz and Justin Allen, both of whom are business administration majors in the School of Management.
Over the weekend of March 12 to March 14, The Public Ivy held their photoshoot for their “Mein Bowl Mary University” apparel with their models, all of whom are Binghamton University students. The sale of the “Mein Bowl Mary University” merchandise will follow a preorder structure, in which students have two weeks starting on March 15 to request and pay for a shirt or hoodie — once the preorder cut off date passes, The Public Ivy will begin production through their partnership with the Downtown Binghamton apparel-printing company, Muckles! Throughout the two weeks, The Public Ivy plans to upload a variety of content on their social media, including showing Mary the apparel for the first time, giveaways and lookbooks.
Mary Chu, also informally known by many as “Mein Bowl Mary,” was the first BU employee Allen met when he visited campus prior to his freshman year. He recalled the strong first impression Mary made on him.
“The next semester, when I was attending [the university] she immediately recognized me,” Allen said. “And I [thought], ‘This woman is different. This woman is not like everybody else.’”
Over the next two years, their interactions with Mary would become more frequent, and she became a figure in their daily lives. Mertz and Allen met in a weight-lifting course in their sophomore year and would walk from the West Gym to the Marketplace together to grab something to eat after class. Upon arrival to the Marketplace, Mary would always greet them with a positive attitude.
“She would greet us with the same smile that all [BU] students have hopefully gotten to know, and she’s just an awesome person,” Allen said. “You could have a bad day, you could have a good day, but she will always be there to give you way too much chipotle mayo, but that’s totally fine. We love her for it.”
One day in the 2020 fall semester Allen and Mertz were chatting with Mary as usual, when Mary communicated that things had been tough, not being able to work or see everyone’s faces during the campus shutdown. Mary expressed that she looked forward to working again in the future. Allen and Mertz not only hoped that their project would cheer Mary up, but also bring a sense of comfort to the BU population during COVID. Allen spoke to the idea of Mary being a campus celebrity among BU students.
“We think it matches this little niche that not a lot of people are going to be thinking of, it’s something you would only know if you went to [BU],” Allen said. “It’s something that honestly is close to a lot of people’s hearts.”
When Allen and Mertz proposed their project idea to Mary, they were not sure what to expect. Allen noted how appreciative Mary was.
“She almost started crying — it made me almost start crying,” Allen said. “I’m not going to lie, we’ve been thinking about the moment where we can bring the [merchandise] to her and show her the appreciation that a lot of people have for her.”
The “Mein Bowl Mary University” project largely centered around planning the design that would be printed on the clothes. Despite being almost a year in the making, Mertz expressed that their anticipation to gift Mary with a surprise kept them motivated.
“I think our favorite part of coming up with the “Mein Bowl Mary University” design was the constant thought of showing her that we care about her so much and how much [of a] positive influence she has by doing something small throughout the day,” Mertz said. “I think the pure excitement that comes to us when we picture her seeing our shirt was enough to keep us going.”
All of the profits made from the Mein Bowl Mary project will be given directly to Mary, which Allen described as a “no-brainer.” Mertz discussed The Public Ivy’s values and goals as a student-run company.
“We’re a clothing brand, but it was never really about the clothing for us,” Mertz said. “It was [about] building a connection with the community … and showing that it is something to be proud of.”
When asked what their “Mein Bowl Mary University” launch means to them, Allen and Mertz both emphasized the positive impact that someone like Mary has had on them, as well as the larger BU community. Allen stressed Mary’s hardworking nature and the atmosphere of hospitality she has built over the years.
“A lot of people see [Mary] as a sort of safe haven, I really can’t state that enough … if I’m having a bad day, if I have a hard test or I’m feeling down because [COVID-19]’s got me down, I always know I can go to Mein Bowl in Marketplace and see her there, every single day,” Allen said. “I’ve never seen her miss a day of work, and she’s just so dedicated to [her job] that even when I don’t want Mein Bowl — I want Mein Bowl. She really is the best.”
Mertz agreed and noted that Mary is a role model for many students.
“It’s important to commend somebody who wakes up every day with a positive attitude, no matter what day they’re having,” Mertz said. “Someone like Mary is a clear example of that, and it’s something that I think students should reflect in themselves.”
Allen reminded us of the big picture for their project.
“We’re just a vessel for [Mary] to get the appreciation she deserves,” Allen said.