From Sketchbooks to Scrunchies
By: Tina Nguyen & Justine Rogers
I get a lot of questions from customers and fellow small-business owners about how XXL & CO. came to be. The short answer is that I sewed a scrunchie for my cousin for Christmas about one year ago and, when she loved it, I decided to turn it into a business.
The long answer is that XXL & CO didn’t just fall into my lap — I truly believe that it’s the culmination of many small moments in my life that have led me to this point. In some ways, XXL is kind of like the patchwork of my life. You guys, my XXL Fam, are such an integral part of who I am today, so I wanted to share with you some special moments in my life that have brought me here.
Growing up, I was always the artsy kid. Art class was by far my favourite class and, from a young age, I was pretty good at it. No matter where I went, you'd always find a sketchbook on me because I was always drawing in my spare time. I've always just found the blank canvas to be so beautiful; it’s like starting something from nothing. In some ways, I have always known that deep down I really am an artist at heart and that I wanted to create a career out of it. However, I hid that dream from myself for a long time, because I was always told that you can’t make a living as an artist.
After finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Ottawa, I was pretty lost and had no job lined up. I learned the hard way that it’s super important to have experience in your field. Eventually, I decided that I should just apply to college and go into Human Resources, because I really didn’t know what other avenues I had open to me. A couple months after making this decision, I was super stressed, and I began to see my life flash before my eyes. I was so scared that I was beginning a life that I didn’t want. On a whim, I looked up graphic design, found a program at George Brown College whose requirements I met, sent in my portfolio, and was accepted. All of a sudden, I was about to start a program about which I was actually really excited.
The summer before starting college I wanted to try to get as much experience as I could and I ended up finding two clients that summer through networking. I helped each client design their website and branding, as well as managed their social media accounts. Looking back, these were honestly life-changing clients for me. When I showed the owner of Reveal Medi Spa a mural I had drawn in my own condo and asked if I could do one for her location, it kickstarted the next phase of my career — murals.
I ended up creating three murals in her spa and, from there, my client-base grew. Two years and over 30 murals later, I knew that, while I liked my program, my real passion was for creating murals and I wanted to pursue them full-time. This was an incredibly difficult, but also somehow totally obvious decision for me. I’d known ever since I was young that I wanted to be an artist, and I had finally found the path and the courage to pursue that dream. To do this, I had to let go of my graphic design clients and also drop out of my final year of college.
This was also a pretty scary conversation to have with my parents. My parents immigrated to Canada and so I’m a first-generation Canadian. Like many other immigrant parents, my parents always wanted the best for me — above all, they wanted me to be secure and successful. While they always thought that being a doctor and getting a university education was the way to achieve this goal, I was so fortunate to have their unconditional support no matter my choices. When I decided to deviate from Psychology and pursue graphic design, they fully had my back (even though they had no idea what graphic design even was!). It was a bit of a scarier conversation to tell them that I was dropping out of my graphic design degree to build my mural business — they’re big believers in finishing what you start. However, one of the beautiful parts of creating murals is that they’re tangible. I was able to show my parents the product of my hard work and, with time, they came to truly understand my passion.
As I built my mural business, I got to work on so many cool projects. While there are too many to name, some of my favourites are a classroom mural in Vietnam, a Haven Eatery mural in a downtown Toronto restaurant, a lululemon community board mural in their pop-up shop in Peterborough, and the logo and website redesign for my favourite tattoo shop, Torontohaus.
How does all of this tie into XXL & CO, you ask?
I often made scrunchies for myself to match my outfits and keep my hair up as I painted. I would sew each scrunchie by hand using a needle and thread, and it would take me almost an entire day to finish just one scrunchie. One year, in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to make a scrunchie for my cousin Anh Lan, with one key difference to suit her super long locks — I made it big. Suddenly, the XXL Scrunchie was born.
The night I created XXL, I remember running home and staying up all night to design the branding. I pulled artwork from my murals to design the tags, and incorporated elements of my aesthetic of fine line work and details into every design.
Fast-forward one hectic year, XXL & CO is a thriving company. With over 200 different scrunchies styles, and 12 pieces of apparel, it’s pretty crazy to think about how far we’ve come. It’s truly been a dream come true. Even though I no longer paint murals, I'm always using my graphic design expertise to improve my business. Not only have I found a renewed sense of direction, I’ve discovered a way to pursue my childhood dream of becoming an artist, albeit in a different way to how I had envisioned.
I can’t overstate how thankful I am for the path that I took to get to where I am today. While it might not have been conventional, my experiences were the building blocks of XXL & CO and have helped me grow so much. Before creating XXL, I had 5 big murals lined up. I was even planning a trip to Vietnam to paint murals for a few big clubs and potentially sit down for an interview with Saigoneer. However XXL launched and literally changed my life (for the better). My life before XXL was truly wild, unpredictable and tons of fun, but I also had no true sense of direction and home. Now with XXL I have a true sense of community, home and family, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
So, what I’m getting at is this — don’t get discouraged if you’re not 100% sure what you’re going to do with your life. All of the moments and decisions in your life are small stepping stones towards where you’re meant to go.
I am so happy to be chasing my wildest dreams and in a small—but not so small—way. Being a part of your special occasions, from your bridal showers to your birthdays to your Christmas exchanges and everything in between has been an honour! It makes me smile seeing each of you create memories while wearing our products.
That is what has made this journey so worthwhile.
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