SFU student entrepreneur Eleanor Li and alumna Rachel Cheng are currently drinking to success — and it’s pretty steamy. The two have won SFU Bookstore’s Next Top Product Competition with their line of hand-knitted cozies, or “Snugs,” for mugs and tumblers, meant to keep your hands cool and your beverages hot.
“It all began when Eleanor had one hour of free time, some knitting needles and four colourful balls of yarn. She had seen knitted mug cozies online and got all excited,” said Cheng, one half of the business duo. The first knitted cozy went to Li’s aunt, but now that they’ve won the contest, cozies will be stocked in the SFU Bookstore as well.
The grand prize of the competition was a $500 initial purchase order for their product from the SFU Bookstore, which includes promotion and exposure in all three campus locations as well as the online bookstore, as well as professional product photography.
“We find inspiration in our everyday lives,” said Cheng. “Maybe it’s something someone doodled on the textbook before us, maybe it’s something we saw while window shopping downtown. From there, Eleanor pulls together the perfect colour palette for the Snug. After buying yarn, which always makes us feel like Christmas came early, Eli hand-knit cozies for either 11 oz mugs or coffee to-go cups.”
Li is currently in her fifth-year in biomedical engineering at the university, while Cheng has graduated with a degree in systems engineering. In the finals of the competition, they found themselves up against two business students with their products: Joy’s Lip Balm and Hench Wallet.
For Cheng, the experience of winning the competition was a chance to see their business take form.
“It’s a great way to increase our presence . . . and what better way to do so than right here on our own campus.”
– Rachel Cheng, Onana Knitted Accessories co-owner
“It was an incredible experience for us as this is the first time our Snugs will be sold at a physical retail storefront,” said Cheng. “It’s a great way to increase our presence in the marketplace, and what better way to do so than right here on our own campus.”
Li first started the business, which she dubbed Onana Knitted Accessories, two years ago after she posted a photo of a mug cozy on Facebook and began receiving requests from friends for cozies of their own. She later asked Cheng to take on the social media aspect of the business, and the two are now co-owners of Onana.
The cozies are largely produced by Li herself, but the two have looked for outside help in the form of three hired knitters when demand is high, as during the Christmas season. The two also have an online Etsy store that was launched this year, and have since found customers in Europe.
As for the future, the two plan to look globally. “If we could find communities that [are] the right fit with our company, we would love to teach women how to knit and help them create a platform in which they can provide a fair wage income to support their families,” said Cheng.
Cheng and Li will be selling Onana’s wares at the annual Simon Fraser Student Society Christmas craft fair at the Burnaby campus this week, and expect to have their mug warmers — in SFU colours — in SFU Bookstores by early December.