Our Stories

Closing the Gaps

Business owner takes enterprise to a new level

Mary Cayten Brakefield
CEO, Brakefields

Vanderbilt Master of Marketing 2023

Mary Cayten Brakefield didn’t pursue a Master of Marketing degree to launch a career in business, but rather to boost a business she had already launched.

After graduating from Vanderbilt in 2020, Mary Cayten and her mother, Stephanie, established a clothing label – Brakefields – that aims to “make the world a more inclusive place” with a focus on universal design, which means the clothing is accessible to everyone regardless of abilities, disabilities, or characteristics. While she loves the business and the brand, she acknowledges that “it is also very tricky to market.”

After considering an MBA for several years, Mary Cayten learned about Vanderbilt’s MMark program. “I knew I had found what would give me the most directly applicable tools for the hurdles we were encountering,” she says. “I was extremely attracted to the idea of earning a master’s degree, gaining vital knowledge I was missing, and adding crucial mentors to my network, all within ten months.” And, not least, she could remain in Nashville, which is both her hometown and the headquarters of her business.

During her year at Vanderbilt, Mary Cayten found that the resources available to her were in many ways as valuable as the marketing knowledge she gained. Vanderbilt’s Center for Entrepreneurship was particularly helpful. Entrepreneurship, she says, “can be a lonely path. Here, there are so many other people who are interested in exploring that path with you, from students and faculty members to incredible speakers and alumni with whom you make connections.”

Through her involvement with the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, Mary Cayten says she learned more about how to further social enterprise, which aligns with the core mission of Brakefields. She also says that the course she took in social enterprise and entrepreneurship, taught by the Center’s Director Mario Avila, was “hands down the best learning experience I’ve ever had.”

And through the Leadership Development Program, she gained what she describes as “incredible opportunities to build leadership skills.”

Now, Mary Cayten says, “I feel like I am going into the next chapter of my career much better prepared to craft a message that will resonate with our customers; help us push our industry as a whole forward; and use our company as a platform to make the world a more inclusive place. I came into the program with specific goals for what I needed to learn to further my career, and Vanderbilt has provided that and more.”

Fun Fact: Mary qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team trials for swimming in 2016.

“I knew I had found what would give me the most directly applicable tools for the hurdles we were encountering.”