The College Coloring Books Origin Story
There I was, 7 years old, sitting in my parents' backyard. I was happily playing pretend and imagining starting my own coloring book company. Just a few decades later, I started College Coloring Books. My dream had become a reality!
... not that AT ALL.
It's true that I never stopped coloring. Throughout middle school, high school, and later, when I went to college (at Sweet Briar College -- this will be an important part of the story in a minute), I colored – with crayons and kids’ coloring books – as a stress reliever. When the adult coloring craze hit in 2014, I was in heaven. Suddenly, there were hundreds of books to choose from. By 2016, there were thousands of adult coloring books on the market. I bought more than my fair share, but it was just a hobby. I don't know if I even would have called it that -- it was something I did in my free time to relax, unwind, and de-stress. Just something fun I did without thinking about it.photo by Aaron Mahler
One night, I was coloring, and I thought “I’d really love to have a Sweet Briar coloring book.”
Thinking that one probably already existed, I took a look online. Nope. Then I thought that there must be a company out there that would take photos and turn them into coloring pages. So, I turned to Google. Surprisingly, I found not a single company dedicated to turning pictures into coloring books. (Though that has since changed.) There are instructions online to convert your photos to coloring pages, but the results are grainy and NOT what I had in mind; I wanted something professional-looking.
Once I completed my (unsuccessful) Google search, I realized that I had just found an untapped market: adult coloring books targeted directly to college students and alumni. Now, I never expected to find an untapped market in anything. I was happy working for “The Man” and doing some freelance design work. I had no desire to start a business – like, ever! – but I couldn’t deny that I was excited about the idea of making custom coloring books for colleges … and filling a need in the market. My heart was racing, my hands were shaking, and I was breathing really fast as I hurried to register the URL and file the paperwork to start the business: College Coloring Books.Photo by Aaron Mahler
Saving Sweet Briar
In the spring of 2015, I was absolutely rocked by the sudden, unexpected, out of the blue announcement that my dear Sweet Briar College was closing. (I'm telling you, we did not see this coming.) I was shocked. I was horrified. And I was moved to action. (Very long story short -- you can read more about it here -- the circumstances around the announced closure were hella sketchy.)
I had known that I wanted to go to Sweet Briar the moment I stepped foot on – er, drove up the driveway to – campus. It was an immediate feeling of “home." I could wax poetic about the beauty of campus, but Sweet Briar is more than just a pretty location. Sweet Briar helped me find my voice. I was a painfully shy middle- and high-school student. I rarely answered any questions in class, even if I had the right answer. At Sweet Briar, I wasn’t a nameless, faceless student in a hall with hundreds of other students; most of my classes had fewer than 10 students. My largest class – Intro to Psych – was super-crowded … with 21 whole students. Because the class sizes were so small, I had nowhere to hide! My professors encouraged me to not only speak, but to explain and defend my answers.
Being part of such a small school – approximately 600 students – was amazing; I knew almost everyone. Being in a rural location meant that I stayed on campus most nights, attending events, hanging out with my friends, and – oh, yeah – studying.photo by Aaron Mahler
As a small, rural, women's college, Sweet Briar isn't just "where I went to school" -- it was my home and it was my community.
I spent my time there surrounded by other smart, curious, brave young women. We built our community together, based on a long tradition of the outstanding women who had come before us. To describe it as a profound or pivotal experience doesn't do it justice. It was the place where I became who I am now; it shaped who I have become as a woman. It is precious to me, and to all of us who have been lucky enough to have lived there.
Sweet Briar Saved!
So, in the spring of 2015, when the closure was first announced, the people who wanted the school closed truly did not know what hit them. After four months, three lawsuits, a trip to the Supreme Court of Virginia, and a payment of $12.5 million, we saved the school!
The attempted closure did a lot of damage, though. Our efforts weren't successful until June of that year, and many students (and staff!) had already opted to go elsewhere. Our freshman class the following fall was only 19 students. And – three years later – we still get a lot of “oh, Sweet Briar closed” comments from people who don't know better. Enrollment numbers are climbing, but it will take some time to reach capacity; the social damage to the Sweet Briar reputation was enormous.
After saving the school, I felt more connected to the campus, the students & staff, and fellow alumnae than ever before. (Which is saying something. As you can probably tell if you're still reading this.) Not even when I was a student did I feel such love for Sweet Briar. There were numerous fundraisers during the Saving Sweet Briar movement: t-shirts, mugs, totes, hats, flags, get-togethers … even cookie sales! I wasn’t the only one who needed to feel that continued connection to Sweet Briar. In fact, I had already begun secretly working on the Sweet Briar coloring book when several people in our Facebook group started talking about wanting one of their own; I officially announced College Coloring Books that day.photo by Aaron Mahler
Three years later, the situation at Sweet Briar continues to improve at an impressive pace.
As of this writing, the class of 2018, the class of freshman at the time of the attempted closure, have walked across the stage in their caps and gowns and collected their degrees. Our work is not done yet, though, and I am still involved in the fundraising efforts. 10% of the profits from all Sweet Briar coloring products by College Coloring Books, from coloring books to notecards to printable coloring pages, are donated back to the school on a monthly basis. I also hold special sales where I donate half or all proceeds to the school’s annual fund. (And we're currently running a fundraiser for reunion this year -- contact me for more details!)
So, the battle to save Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, was the absolute inspiration for College Coloring Books. I learned so much during the Saving Sweet Briar campaign. I was heavily involved in the grassroots PR efforts to save the school: letters to the editor, live-tweeting the court proceedings, speaking with reporters,
stalking harassing petitioning our elected representatives, and conducting research into the backgrounds of the individual board members. (Plus, I learned a whole lot about one particular legal statute and realized that I never ever ever want to be a lawyer -- but I'm really grateful that Sweet Briar has turned out some awesome ones!)
The major thing I came away with was a new attitude about life, and a new perspective about what's possible: I Can Do It!
::insert swooning over Rosie the Riveter here::
I didn’t have legal experience – or really any interest in the law – but I was able to pick up the information I needed. I had never before written a letter to the editor, and I learned how to make mine stand out. My only political experience was at the voting booth, yet I crafted one of the most effective campaigns in our movement to Save Sweet Briar. If I could do any – all! – of those, I could do anything! (Especially with the help of my Vixen sisters. You probably won't be surprised to learn that much of the College Coloring Books team is made up of my classmates from Sweet Briar, as well!)
Starting a business is easy: you come up with an idea, register for a business license, and start working. Maintaining a business is a WHOLE lot harder! There are so (so so so so so so) many things I hadn’t thought of before: sales tax, inventory, balance sheets, product photography. Ugh. Running College Coloring Books has been a huge learning experience; one that I likely wouldn’t have had were it not for the Saving Sweet Briar movement. (Throw that life experience on the pile of things I owe to Sweet Briar.)photo by Aaron Mahler
So, in many ways, College Coloring Books began as my love letter to Sweet Briar.
The Saving Sweet Briar movement gave me a new passion and perspective on the college that shaped me. It reignited my enthusiasm for Sweet Briar as an institution. And it illuminated a set of skills, and a level of capability in myself that I had never known before.
And so it was natural to extend that. What I had created for myself, and for my Sweet Briar sisters with the Sweet Briar College Coloring Book, I wanted to share with others. That passion, that fire, that sentiment that I had for MY college, was something that others felt for their schools too (though, of course, I believe Sweet Briar is truly special). I want my customers to feel that connection to their schools and communities that I feel when I open my Sweet Briar College book. Every page in every book holds meaning: from strawberries, to sphynxes, to a set of stairs.
Your experience as a student is unique to you, but the love you have for your school or sorority is shared with many.
It is that unique, individual experience that we take with us. It is that shared community that we leave behind to share with the next class, the next generation, and beyond. My hope is that a College Coloring Book can tap into that emotion for everyone who opens one. It's been an intensely personal journey for me, and I'm so happy to be able to share it with all of you.