Rise of the Interns: Mattie Cragin, PR Specialist for Lululemon

The first time 24-year-old Mattie Cragin tried downhill mountain biking, she flew over the handlebars. Yet nowadays she counts the adrenaline-pumping hobby as a favorite—alongside yoga, trail running, and teaching spin. There doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of this vivacious three-time intern and communications graduate from Elon University. Now working full-time as a PR specialist for Lululemon’s head office in Vancouver, B.C., Mattie’s adventurous spirit has taken her across the world; she shows no signs of slowing down.

What exactly compelled the then 20-year-old Chicago native to move to Canada for a summer internship? Mattie was introduced to her future employer, the international yoga apparel brand Lululemon Athletica, through her older sister; her sister was experiencing growing pains of early adulthood (career uncertainty and a broken heart) when she started working in retail for Lululemon. Mattie watched her sister blossom under the leadership development the company provided, so when Mattie learned of a summer internship opportunity in Vancouver she didn’t think twice about applying. As always, she was up for the challenge—and no surprise, Mattie was hired.

Boldly facing fears of moving to a new city and beginning her first career experience, Mattie created her own One Thing a Day Challenge—a blog project where she publicly challenged herself to do one small thing a day that scared her. “When I saw that people from South Africa were reading the blog, I felt empowered,” said Mattie. “I find that it’s only when I’m taking those big risks that I really learn who I am. I feel like I’m addicted to it!” Mattie was soon agreeing to blind dates and delivering cookies to her new neighbors’ doorsteps.

Within her first year, Mattie had proven her worth as an intern and was hired full-time on the Lululemon public relations team. Read on to learn more about this fearless Chicago-native, world traveler, superstar intern, and her opinion about flying downhill on her mountain bike: “It’s all a thrill!”

The same year you interned with Lululemon in Vancouver, you also interned in France during your fall semester. Tell us about your experience abroad!
My junior year, I moved to Aix-en-Provence, France for a semester and ended up taking on a journalism internship. I was studying general communications at the time, so my ears perked up at the chance. I wrote for the Aix City News (a tiny but excellent publication they give out for free on the streets.) I showed up on my first day to six handsome French men speaking too fast; I walked in nervous and beet-red. I don’t think they knew what to make of me, honestly.

That internship was, basically, a hilarious adventure and I learned so much! They had me writing and editing articles very quickly. A funny story came up where a man had put a paper posting on a poll that asked: “Have you seen this woman? I’m in love with her. Call this number if you’ve seen her.” He was Italian, she was a student in town, and he was searching for her. You know how Europeans can be about love! So I called him up (luckily, he spoke a bit of English), I helped him find her and, most importantly, I got the story! It was a thrill. But my very first internship was with a study abroad agency in Chicago; I learned about marketing communications.

You also started your first blog during your freshman year. How did this affect your career path? 
It helped build my confidence as a writer, and also helped build my resume! How many employers want to read through your term papers? But send them a little link and suddenly they can very quickly see that you take initiative. That was definitely one of the reasons that I landed my internship at Lululemon. My blog was called ‘Healthy in College’—and this was back when people weren’t really doing blogs as much as they do now. It helped me so much in building my career—it was the best thing I could have done at the time.

What tools did Lululemon provide your sister that attracted you to the company?
Lululemon helps you learn about goal setting and they give you the opportunity to ask: “What do I really want?” Most of us are on this trajectory: graduate high school, go to college, meet a boy and live in the city, then settle down. But what do you really want to do? My sister had just left a corporate job and was going through a major life change as most people do in their mid-twenties. But Lululemon said: “Hey! What can we do to help you?” I was lucky enough to see firsthand (when I was only 20) that you can create your own reality; there are companies who will not only provide you with a career, but who can help you achieve your goals.

So, we have to ask, did you enjoy yoga before Lululemon?
No, not at all! I actually disliked it. I was a runner; I had always been competitive and I played lacrosse. Also, I rarely admit this, but I really love to dance.

Wait—being a good dancer is the opposite of something you should feel ashamed of!
It’s just that I was a cheerleader—and because of movies and stereotypes, being a cheerleader can have a negative connotation. But the truth is, they are serious athletes! My first day at Lululemon, we had training that involved a fun yoga orientation. And our teacher, Christy, was just amazing. I loved it right away. It’s helped me shave time off when I run half-marathons! I am more flexible and agile now. But there is honestly no judgment at work if yoga isn’t your thing. We also have a running club and tons of other fitness initiatives. Anytime I go crazy (I used to tell my college roommates), tell me to go for a run—anytime I get nervous, or anxious or am just freaking out. But now, yoga is my calming thing. After my internship, in my senior year at college, I actually went to Costa Rica for a week and completed my 100-hour instructor certification.

That’s amazing! After your summer internship, you returned to Elon University to complete your degree. Did you stay in touch with your Lululemon mentors?
Yes—I maintained a constant line of contact: Once a month, I would check-in and send whatever projects I was working on at the time. I kept reiterating my interest in working for them full-time! I also worked part-time at a Lululemon shop in North Carolina during that time.

So persistence really does pay off! What is your current title at Lululemon?
My title is PR specialist, with a concentration in product and brand. I was just promoted in December, actually.

Congratulations! Did Lululemon hire you full-time after graduation?
Yes. I received an offer letter in April of my senior year, and then we clarified my work visa—they were determined to make it work. I think it speaks to how certain they were about helping develop my career. I was primed and ready to move into this role thanks to my internship. Thankfully, they were able to look beyond constraints of moving me to another country to work.

Do you think it was your relationship building skills during your internship that helped you land the full-time the position?
Yes, I do. It was partly that there was an opening, and partly that I hadn’t left them alone all year! The position opened when I finished my internship—I took on a lot during my time there so when I left, there was suddenly a role that needed to be filled. They would throw stuff at me, and I did my best to hit it out of the park every time.

You must have felt very sure that you wanted to work for Lululemon!
Yes, I knew I wanted to come back. A lot of college seniors have a one-track focus on a company they think is the right fit, and they can lose sight of other opportunities because of that. But it was always just a strong feeling for me. It was how I felt for the summer during my internship, and how I felt the company culture helped my sister grow. So, while I wasn’t one-track obsessed for working with Lululemon, I was obsessed with the feeling. I knew that starting my career at Lululemon meant that I wouldn’t only live for the post-5pm happiness that so many recent graduates deal with. I actually love Mondays!

That said, did your internship ever feel like a grind?
Not really! It was all learning. They taught us about setting goals; took us through leadership development courses; and life coaching. All skills I ended up actually bringing back to my sorority in North Carolina. I came back to my friends saying: “Guys, when was the last time anyone asked you what your vision for ten years down the road was?” I mean, 22-year-olds aren’t often given the chance to create a vision for their life. You don’t often have the chance to say out loud: “You know what? Ten years from now I would love to own a property in Costa Rica, and I actually think I want to one day open up a craft brewery/yoga studio!” Not everyone is given the tools to think big when they’re young.

So true. It’s impressive you were able to fit three internships into your early twenties. Tell us more!
I guess I’m just a trial-by-error type of person. It’s how I chose my university—through a process of elimination: this place is too cold; I have too many high school friends going to this one; I think I’ll move to a different state! And that’s pretty much how I got into PR as well. I was briefly a sports newscaster for our weekly college newspaper; I would get up and host events. The first time I got up to present, a male on staff actually told me that I was looking “too seductively” into the camera.

That’s so unfortunate! How did you feel?
Yes—but experiences like that have only encouraged me to become a mentor for other young people in the communications field. I make sure to speak to our younger staff and interns on a weekly basis. I always advise them to test out all areas that interest them, because how else do you know? You think you want to be an investment banker, for example—but why? Where does that come from? Is it what you really want? I really don’t know why I work in PR, but I can say that I tried out enough things to be able to say: “This I love!” and “This I definitely do not.”

We agree! Do you think it’s the ‘new normal’ to be aware of what you truly want? 
Yes, definitely. I was lucky to have my own family as an example. When I was really young, I played The Little Red Hen in a school play and performed “I Can Do It By Myself.” So, growing up, I would grab my Barbie suitcase and throw a tantrum and say I was going to run away, and my Dad would start whistling the tune. My parents definitely fostered independence, and I was definitely the most exploratory child in our family!

And you’re a total adventure seeker!
Yes! I mountain bike and I received my yoga teacher certification and have moved to new cities on my own. It was all definitely scary, but I learned who I am; it sounds so cliché, but when you break yourself down a bit, you find out what you’re made of. It’s not until you’re at your most vulnerable in a city where you don’t know anyone, or at a university with awkward freshman encounters that you start thinking: “OK, this is maybe who I want to be.”

Independence has served you well! Do you think without your internships you would be where you are today in your career?
No. I don’t think I would have attained the role I have now without interning. You ‘try on’ the company as much as the company tries you on. So if the culture, or the team, or the environment at a company isn’t for you, then you’re correct to explore further. I loved my final internship so much and must have been a fit with the team, because when I left they said they felt a gap.

Did you go above and beyond what was asked of you in your internship?
Well they said I did! But seriously, I have always had strong adaptability and an eagerness to learn. I feel like those are two of the most crucial traits you can have as an intern and in any entry-level position.

In your opinion, what are the most detrimental traits you can have as an intern?
If you pigeonhole yourself as an intern and just keep the lights straight ahead on your job description then you’re missing out. Don’t just tick off boxes and go home when it’s done. If your job is to run the sample closet and you’re constantly thinking: “I’m better than this” then you’re missing the big picture. If you keep your ear to the ground and listen, you will start to notice the person next to you on the team who is suffering because her workload is too heavy. If you say: “Hey, what can I do to help you?” and they happen to teach you something only that one time, then it’s in your arsenal for the rest of your career. All of a sudden, you’re talking to the media every day. That is how I took my internship to the next level—I tried to be compassionate to my team members who were mentoring me. At the end of the day, you have to be there because you want to learn and also because you believe you have something that makes you uniquely qualified to help.

How do you feel you were uniquely suited to Lululemon? Give us your advice for current interns.
I had previous internships, but again, it comes back to a feeling. In a friend group, you notice when you’re all together but one person is missing. And that’s how my team started to value me—I was helpful and shared my ideas. As an intern at a growing company, sometimes suggest alternative ways of doing things. That’s your value as an intern—to come in as a young person with big, inexperienced ideas and shake things up! It’s your job to ask: “How can I fulfill what is expected of me, but also deliver something entirely new?” Think of the bigger picture as an intern; don’t be afraid to tell your boss about the things you’re working on; don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.

What is the number one lesson you took from your internship into your role now? 
You are never just your position; you’re never just an intern, a coordinator, or CEO. Back then, I said a lot: “Oh well, I’m just the intern.” I devalued my own opinions in discussions at work—I was too focused on worrying about whether someone would grumble after the meeting about the intern who wouldn’t pipe down. But you are never just that role—they hired you for a reason! You are testing the waters at the company just as much as they’re testing you. Obviously, be respectful but don’t be afraid of your own voice. Remember that you are probably the youngest person in that company! They want to hear your opinion, trust me. I have always been sensitive, but an internship is the perfect opportunity to try and be less so. The number one thing I would say is just to be you. Don’t try and be the perfect intern at the same time as remembering that you’re not “just an intern.” Tone down your language and maybe drink less beer, but show up as yourself everyday and your colleagues will appreciate you being there.

Do you think interns need to go above and beyond to land the job?
I think that getting hired out of an internship comes down to going all out, yes. If that means bonding with your co-workers and staying late with them to help out and order Chinese food, then go for it. You want people to feel a void when you leave. You have to leave your mark—but remember: Your grave doesn’t need to be your mark!

Do you think that by the time you were at Lululemon you found your voice a bit more?
Yes, and coupled with growing up a little. My internships definitely built my confidence; they taught me what not to do. I definitely made mistakes. I took huge risks and got excited about things like presenting to senior management.

During your internship, did you have one project that showed how much you were valued at Lululemon?
There was one week that my boss left on vacation and we also brought in a large group of our store managers to Vancouver. My internship role was partly doing internal communications, so my role was to report on the whole weekend. I had to tell the stories, blog, post, report—I hardly slept. Because my boss was away, it was the most responsibility I had ever had. It was fun and exhilarating. But I had a moment that weekend when I realized that I could do it—I felt myself go from “just the intern” to “Mattie, the career woman.”

Did you fall in love with Vancouver that summer too? We sure would!
I had never been to a place like it! Growing up in Chicago, we would go to Wisconsin and ski on old landfills that were essentially man-made “mountains.” Chicago is beautiful and I am so proud to say I’m from there and to be able to visit my parents whenever I need to. The mountains and ocean in Vancouver suit me though. I’m actually a huge mountain biker now! You could not have paid me to mountain bike before I moved here—it’s so scary. I trail run, do half-marathons, and snowboard. The culture of exercise in Vancouver is so natural and social. You do it to feel good. My friends from home love to visit!

What is your number one goal for 2015?
I really want to travel and meet all the wonderful people I work with on a daily basis. All of the journalists in Toronto and New York that I talk to every day—I want to shake their hands and have some fun dinners with them. For me, it’s not just work—these people are my friends.

What is your absolute favorite moment in the 9-to-5 workday?
I try to run into different people every day at lunch. I love to know what they’re up to—and the conversation is always amazing. The other day, I ran into our executive VP in the office kitchen and we chatted about my family trip to Arizona. I feel like anytime I get to know someone better or further a relationship with a colleague, I’m happy.

Where do you see yourslf at Lululemon in the future?
I never thought I cared about fashion, but now I feel super passionate about our product. So, I’m really hoping I can tell some of the amazing stories our brand team has around the products. Our team is growing and, with my recent promotion, I am excited about the direction I’m headed in. Every day is different! I would love to be managing and mentoring someone within the year. I just feel forever indebted to the people who taught me, and coached me—my team, my managers, my two older sisters. I would love to be able to repay all that wisdom one day.

On a personal level, in January of next year I have a trip planned! I’m going to spend three weeks exploring and road tripping around New Zealand in a camper van with my boyfriend! He is from there, so I’m excited to explore it for the first time. Also, both my sisters are getting married next year (in Michigan and Colorado!), so I’m a double maid-of-honor and the pressure is on! Also, I want to start teaching yoga again, and I will be certified to teach spin very soon. Ideally, I would love for fitness to be my side job. Teaching is definitely my passion; I want to help people live their best life.

Ten years down the road, do you see yourself working in communications?
Well, I’m not exactly done traveling. I think you have to live in a place in order to really experience it. I’m addicted to that ‘never settling’ feeling. So, I want to live in other cities but I also know that I want to manage and teach and mentor. Then there’s the side of me that’s entrepreneurial (like my parents) where I can see myself opening a fun business. Ten years from now I would like to be own boss. I still have work to do learning from the people above me before that can ever happen!

What is the best quality that possess that made you a superstar intern?
Adaptability. Being able to pick up what someone throws at you, or drops, or is juggling and you just happen to catch. I was able to stop second-guessing myself, and stop checking everything over with my boss; I just took risks. And if you screw up, you learn even more for having taken that risk.

Mattie Cragin is The Everygirl…

Favorite way to treat yourself?
Wine and cheese. I’m lactose-intolerant, but my favorite thing is cheese! I. Love. Cheese.

First major purchase as a career woman?
Since my promotion, I purchased a trip to Tulum, Mexico that I was able to fully pay for myself upfront. I actually leave tomorrow morning!

One thing you wish you knew how to do?
Graphic design! I want to maybe go back to school for it as some point.

Best pump-up song for when interning gets you down? 
Anything Beyonce.

Last thing you do before you turn out the lights?
I have to read to fall asleep. Right now I’m reading The Rosie Project.

First thing you do in the morning?
I used to check Instagram and Facebook right away, but ultimately I didn’t like that habit. Now I read The Skimm for daily news headlines and make sure I’m learning something!

Cause closest to your heart?
My mom’s best friend recently passed away from ALS. It’s such a hard disease to make sense of.

Most thankful for?
My support network. I know I have someone I can rely on in a lot of different cities. I do not keep secrets. I need to talk. I need my family and friends. You can never underestimate the power of your support network.

Most looking forward to doing in Tulum tomorrow?
In this order: lying on the beach, dancing at a Mexican wedding I’m attending, and tequila.

Show Comments +