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University of Michigan students go viral with their Scrunchie Shots

Scrunchie Shot co-founder Justine Abbo wears Electric Lemonade.
Scrunchie Shot co-founder Justine Abbo wears Electric Lemonade. (Scrunchie Shot)

ANN ARBOR – Four students at the University of Michigan didn’t know what they were in for when they signed up for an entrepreneurial course in Fall 2019.

Heather Gaynor, Alison Vogg, Catherine Loder and Justine Abbo had never met each other, were in different years and in different majors.

But after “speed dating” on a Google Doc in Eric Fretz’s class -- in which he encourages teams to do epic things -- the four joined forces to pitch a business concept one month later.

“The morning of, I had an idea for a scrunchie shot,” said Chief Executive Officer Gaynor, who was a junior at the time. “It was a really warm game day and on winter game days, you have a coat you can put a shooter in. I’m in a crop top and shorts and I have no other fabric on my body except for a scrunchie.”

Fretz loved it and told them, “I don’t often love first ideas. I’m a big fan of your idea. Now, go get banned from the Big House.”

Scrunchie Shot co-founders Catherine Loder and Allison Vogg pose with their product at Nickels Arcade in Ann Arbor. (Scrunchie Shot)

The students spent a few months developing a prototype with the help of teammate Justine Abbo, who was a product design major at the Stamps School of Art & Design.

They sold their first Scrunchie Shots on campus at a deep discount in November ahead of the U-M vs. Michigan State game. “After that, it just kind of blew up,” said Gaynor.

They launched the company that month before their course had finished and had a nationwide launch set for March 15, 2020, days after the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan and U-M closed campus.

Scrunchie Shot co-founders Justine Abbo (left) wearing Mojito, Catherine (middle) wearing Mojito, Heather Gaynor (right) wearing Shamrock Shooter. (Scrunchie Shot)

Instead of hitting pause, the team redesigned their website over the summer and did a soft launch in November on social media. Soon, their posts gained traction on the video-sharing social network TikTok.

One of their videos surpassed one million views before Christmas, and they quickly sold out of their inventory. All production is still in house, and Gaynor sews them on her sewing machine.

To date, they have sold more than 300 units and e-commerce platform Shopify placed Scrunchie Shot in the top 6% of all stores that launched same week they did.

Scrunchie Shot launched its St. Patrick's Day collection on Feb. 22, 2021. (Scrunchie Shot)

Although they mainly market to college students, surprisingly those weren’t their first customers.

“Our initial buzz was actually from football moms,” said Gaynor. “They’d buy a bunch of them in their team colors and give them to their friends to wear at their kids’ games.”

Gaynor said the discretion of the product is what intrigues people.

“It’s pretty difficult to tell,” she said. “We have absolutely no marketing on the outside of the scrunchie. It just looks like a scrunchie on your wrist.”

Company co-founders Catherine Loder (left) wearing Irish Cactus and Alison Vogg (right) wearing White Russian in Nickels Arcade in downtown Ann Arbor. (Scrunchie Shot)

With high interest and demand, the team is evolving the brand to include holidays like their new Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day collections.

They currently come in 10 colors and each color is named after a drink. One unit costs $10.99 and a funnel for easy filling sells for $0.50.

Scrunchie Shot recently expanded to Canada, and the team is now looking for a way to outsource manufacturing as Gaynor prepares to start a Master’s program at U-M.

For more information, visit www.scrunchieshot.com.

This story is part of a “Be Epic” series on Dr. Fretz’s Entrepreneurial Creativity class.

About the class

Dr. Fretz’s Entrepreneurial Creativity class (P223/ALA223) is one of the more unusual classes on campus. As the core course for everyone taking the #1 ranked Entrepreneurship minor, almost 2,000 students have gone through its unique structure since Dr. Fretz created it in 2014. This class gets students out of their comfort zone by assessing their personal characteristics that contribute to creative and entrepreneurial success, like: EQ, IQ, Grit, Personality, and Divergent Thinking. Almost 300 students per term form small teams that are sorted into sections and encouraged to develop a list of creative ideas that will improve the community, create something novel, or make money as well as “be epic”!

Each team reviews their ideas with Dr. Fretz and they agree on the best choice as well as a rough plan for the term. Four GSI’s assist with supervising and mentoring each team throughout the term as they grapple with planning, teamwork, and leadership issues, while applying class concepts to those same issues. With periodic check-ins and energetic mentoring Dr. Fretz ensures each team has the best chance to reach their full potential. The very best teams are provided a chance to compete for funding with a Venture firm in NYC and participate in the “Big Show” after classes end. While never conceived as an incubator class, over two dozen companies of varying size have begun from class projects.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.