Fashioning the Future With: Xyla Foxlin
'Electrifying' is a word you could use to describe today's interview, because zapping zucchinis, we've got the mesmerizingly multitalented Xyla Foxlin on the blog today. Xyla is too cool for words, but we'll try anyway: She's an engineer, a CEO, Miss Greater Cleveland, the creator of an adorable hug robot, a STEM advocate, a musician, and much more.
We are a hundred percent on board with her astoundingly cool nonprofit Beauty and the Bolt which seeks to make STEM more diverse and accessible through creating a variety of resources. Its "Brilliant is Beautiful" ethos and rad hashtag #PrincessesWithPowerTools are precisely on point with what we believe in: that you don't need to let societal pressures govern who you are and what you can do. You can check as many boxes as you want or forget the boxes entirely and invent your own. Xyla herself is a walking, talking, Tesla-Coil-controlling example of that!
Xyla has been featured by numerous outlets including Forbes, Make, The New York Times, and more. We were thrilled at the chance to ask this entrepreneurial engineer all about her STEM advocacy, what it's like to run Beauty and the Bolt, and even how she got into aviation! Meet Xyla Foxlin.
What does it mean to you to be all of the following and more: Miss Greater Cleveland, a mechatronics engineer, an aviation enthusiast, and a STEM advocate?
I really like the idea of switching up people’s idea of what a woman can and should be. I do things because I’m fascinated by them, regardless of the stereotype they call into. I’m honored if people find me unique and inspiring because of it, but to me I’m just being myself.
What inspired you to enter the Miss Ohio beauty pageant?
It was a bit of a whim decision, solidified by the idea that instead of just playing the violin as my talent, I could control a Tesla Coil with my violin. (This wasn’t received spectacularly by the judges, but I got so many awestruck messages from little girls in the audience and that was my goal anyway.) I’d seen friends on social media compete in pageants and thought, “Hey, I could do that.”
What was the inspiration for your company Parihug? Do you have any favorite customer stories out how the bear hug has helped people connect with loved ones?
I initially came up with the concept because I was in a long-distance relationship, but I pursued it as a company because I realized how many kids can’t be with their parents all the time. At SXSW one year, a military dad started crying at our booth because he’d spent most of his daughter’s childhood deployed and missed out on so many hugs.
What have you enjoyed the most about running your Beauty and the Bolt website and YouTube channel?
Beauty and the Bolt was born out of true passion and not the goal of building a successful startup or raising VC money. It’s now a 501c3 nonprofit (yay!) which is incredibly rewarding. I love that it gives me the opportunity to teach others and try to be a role model I wish I’d had when I was learning to use a machine shop, but it’s also a nice creative outlet where I can justify spending time and money on quirky projects.
What draws you to Beauty and the Beast’s Belle?
Belle is such a great example of #BrilliantIsBeautiful, Beauty and the Bolt’s tagline. She is kind, brave, and feminine, as well as incredibly intelligent, bookwormish, and unafraid to be the smartest person in town.
How did you get into flying?
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of flight-- as a little kid I remember sneaking off to the library and checking out all the books I could find on aerospace and birds, convinced I could figure out the physics of wings. In middle school I found an event run by Young Eagles, where kids could be taken on a free introductory flight. I did that, and got hooked. My junior year of high school I got a job working line crew at an airport in exchange for my flight hours.
You volunteer a lot with elementary school kids. What is your favorite aspect of that experience?
If I’ve learned anything as an educator, it’s that nothing can hold a room full of second graders’ attention like a lightning show in their classroom. In fact, they’re so captivated that the group of students start the lesson without knowing what a circuit is, and leave discussing electromagnetism. And they don’t even realize they’ve been learning science the whole time.
That experience is so incredibly rewarding. I think I have an advantage in that I’m not their everyday teacher, so when I do show up, I’ve got with me a Tesla Coil, or a rocket, or a robot, or something else wildly exciting to them. I’ll never achieve the Mrs. Frizzle hair, but hopefully someday get close to the wow factor of her lessons.
What advice do you have for younger girls (middle and high school) who want to go into STEM?
Don’t be afraid of failure, and don’t let your grades define you. I’ll let you all in on a little not-so-secret: I never got good grades, not even in math and science, but I followed a passion for engineering instead. Just build things you want to build.
I’ll pass along a great piece of advice a good friend gave me. He was a grad student and wandered into the robotics lab at around 2am my freshman year, and I was alone battling the construction of a unit that I thought should have been simple. When I expressed frustration, he responded “Didn’t you play violin growing up? How many hours a day did you practice? This isn’t so different from learning an instrument — some things just take years of practice.”
What about girls who are also people of color?
Find mentors, role models, and people who will support you. Don’t try to change who you are to fit in with everyone else — chances are your background will bring a whole different perspective to your field. My pageant director encouraged me to wear my mother’s qipao for evening gown at Miss Ohio, and it took a lot of guts to be different. But you’ll be so much happier in the end if you stick to who you are!
What are you working on/building now? Or what is a project that you’ve always wanted to build?
I can’t say much, but I’m doing an awesome art-music-tech project with my friend and incredible Youtuber, Snubby J!
Do you have any favorite fictional STEM characters in books/movies/other art forms?
Not fictional, but I love Hedy Lamarr.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
Wings! Rocket shoes! Anything that could let me fly.