Slipping on headphones and listening to tunes is a luxury 360 million people across the globe will never have. What’s worse? Many people afflicted by hearing loss could be helped with a simple hearing aid. Enter eco-entrepreneur Bridget Hilton. After seeing a YouTube video of a 20-something woman hearing for the very first time, Bridget, who grew up in the music industry and can’t imagine a life without sound, decided to start LSTN, a headphone and speaker maker dedicated to helping those in need through the Starkey Hearing Foundation. With their “buy one give one model,” LSTN has, to date, helped more than 20,000 individuals hear for the first time. Inhabitat recently spoke to Bridget about her company’s “sound good, look good, do good” philosophy to find out more.
Inhabitat: How did you come to start this company?
Bridget: LSTN was actually started to help fund the Starkey Hearing Foundation. It wasn’t an afterthought. I had been interested in social enterprise for a while, buying products like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes. One day I saw a video on YouTube about a woman my age hearing for the first time. I found out there are 360 million people just like her with hearing loss.
My life has always revolved around music, so I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. It made me wonder if there was an organization out there supporting hearing restoration, so I did some research and found Starkey. I grew up in the music industry where I helped to build artist careers at major record labels. I did not come from a philanthropic background nor did I have money to contribute to the cause. So I started a company to contribute to their goal of changing the world through sound. Music is the greatest thing in the world – everyone should be able to experience it. In order to change the world, our product had to be cool, and people had to want it – and what’s cooler than headphones right now?
Inhabitat: You place a lot of emphasis on design and materials. What’s the process like from design to production? How long does it usually take to bring an idea to the market?
Bridget: Our in-house designer Max works with us and our workshop to make ideas come to life. Our inspirations are vintage audio equipment and classic brands like Levi’s or Ray-Ban — fashion that will never go out of style. We aim to have the quality and beautiful design of vintage brands but with the newest technology and hi-fi sound. For the speakers, it took a full year from design to release because of how many times we tested the sound and sent samples back and forth until we were confident they sounded better than any other portable bluetooth speaker on the market. High quality materials and design are huge for us because that is what separates us from the hundred other companies making often cheap audio products.
Inhabitat: You use a lot of fine, high-quality woods. Where do you source your materials and what measures do you have in place to ensure your products are sustainable?
Bridget: Whenever possible, we source wood from furniture and flooring manufacturers. We are also doing really cool collaborations this year with reclaimed wooden items like baseball bats, guitars and skateboards. LSTN is super committed to being sustainable and are currently in the process of becoming a B Corporation, which will ensure strict manufacturing measures will be kept in place as long as we are around.
Inhabitat: What makes your speakers better than others on the market at the same price point?
Bridget: The thing we try to nail most at the company is that we hit three points – sound good, look good, do good. The products all sound incredible and none of the other qualities about us would work without that. When we first started, it was important for us to seed product out to audiophiles, producers, artists and writers to get feedback and reviews so customers could see that we were a real contender in the audio world. Design is incredibly important as well – no matter how good something sounds, the reality is that people will not wear it or buy it if it doesn’t look good.
Inhabitat: Do you have any other products in the works that we should keep an eye out for?
Bridget: We’re developing more Bluetooth products that should be out in the next 6 months or so. The team has also been working on a few large scale international partnerships that we’re super excited to share soon!
Inhabitat: How does it feel to know your company has helped more than 20,000 individuals hear again?
Bridget: So thankful for all the amazing customers so far that have made this happen. Working with Starkey Hearing Foundation has been a dream come true and we couldn’t be happier to have them as our partner in giving. It really is the most rewarding job to be able to play music for a child that has never heard before and it makes the hard work we put into the company and products totally worth it when we see their eyes light up.