A budding entrepreneur tames a vexing problem with the world’s first adjustable athletic scrunchie
Photo: Nicole Baranowski and the Hairstrong scrunchie
AT FIRST, NICOLE Baranowski thought something was wrong with her hair. During every workout, the varsity rower’s hair would come loose, fall in front of her face and throw off her training. Regular hair ties weren’t strong enough to hold her thick hair in place on the one hand, or they were too tight and caused headaches and hair damage on the other.
The Goldilocks hair-tie solution remained elusive, and Baranowski started to resign herself to the notion that the problem was her own hair. That is until she found herself in an entrepreneurship class geared to kinesiology students at Western, tasked with mocking up a business plan.
“Maybe there was something I could do to fix my hair,” she remembers thinking, as she kicked around ideas. “When I brought it up to the women in the class, they all felt the same way. It can’t be all our hair — maybe it’s the product.”
And with that, the Hairstrong scrunchie was born. It’s a simple solution to a vexing problem: a scrunchie with an adjustable and a stronger-than-normal elastic core.
“A one-size-fits-all product doesn’t fit things that aren’t one-size-fits-all,” says Baranowski. The better solution, at least as far as hair is concerned, is a product where the size can be dialled in and customized. That seems like a subtle distinction, but when it comes to hair ties, it makes all the difference — something that was apparent as soon as she presented her idea and prototype.
“On the last day of class, the head of Propel [Western’s business incubation program] was there listening. They contacted me and told me I should go for it with the idea,” Baranowski says. “I never actually thought I could be an entrepreneur until that day.”
At first, she tried to hand-sew the ties, but quickly realized, “I’m not a very good sewer.” She set out to find a local seamstress who could produce them, and since July, when she officially launched the company, Baranowski has sold over 800 Hairstrong scrunchies.
Baranowski is now going through the Propel incubator program at Western and is pursuing a master’s degree in international business at the Ivey Business School.
“My big vision for this business is to replace the standard elastic scrunchie on the market today” —Nicole Baranowski
With Hairstrong, Baranowski tapped into an entrepreneurial vein she didn’t even know she had, and she hopes that passion — and the business that unearthed it — will be a wave she can ride far beyond the walls of the Ivey.
“A lot of people graduate and go into consulting or finance,” she says of her Ivey peers. “I’m the only one in my class who has a business and who is seriously considering pursuing it after I’m done here.”
Recently, Baranowski won the coveted Ivey Business Plan Competition — a competition she was initially waitlisted for — which comes with a healthy $15,000 cash prize. “I’m putting it into branding and figuring out how to scale,” she says. “My big vision for this business is to replace the standard elastic scrunchie on the market today.”
The Hairstrong scrunchie is starting to catch on, especially with the student athlete population, a sound endorsement that the product does what it set out to do. Baranowski runs pop-up sales, sells the scrunchies online and is hoping to get the product into retail stores.
“I’d say 35 per cent of my sales are online. The rest, I’m going out and hustling,” she says. She half-jokes that her apartment is becoming overrun with boxes full of scrunchies and materials.
For now, though, everything is still a learning experience, and Baranowski absorbs it all like a sponge, taking whatever new information she can and applying it back to the business.
“At the point I’m at now, I don’t know what I don’t know. Every day in class I learn something new,” she says. “It’s all really helped me change the way I think about business. It’s been a really surreal experience. I feel like I just really fit into this environment.” Kieran Delamont