GEAR FOR A CAU S E : L STN

iPhone Life Magazine - - Great Gear - BY R E B ECCA SA N T I AGO

It's safe to say that most of our web-brows­ing rou­tines go a lit­tle some­thing like this: we log into Face­book, scroll briefly through our up­dates, black out for an un­cer­tain pe­riod of time, and then mys­te­ri­ously re­gain our senses hours later while click­ing through our high school sig­nif­i­cant other's cousin's class­mate's spring-break photo al­bum. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a YouTube video (or 10) sneaks into this sched­ule, usu­ally star­ring cats. Even­tu­ally, we pass out with our lap­tops on our stom­achs, as le­git­i­mate adults do.

Two years ago, LA res­i­dent Brid­get Hil­ton was me­an­der­ing down that familiar dig­i­tal rab­bit hole when a YouTube video gave her pause. “You've prob­a­bly clicked on it,” she as­sures me over the phone. We're on a West Coast-to-East Coast call, and ev­ery­thing about her ex­udes Cal­i­for­nia cool. “It's the vi­ral one, where a deaf woman about my age hears her own voice for the first time. It's crazy.” In fact, I do re­mem­ber see­ing the video, but the im­pact it had on me was dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent than the ef­fect it had on Brid­get, as I likely pro­ceeded with my usual snack-movie-nap rou­tine af­ter fin­ish­ing it.

For Brid­get, the video of the woman hear­ing for the first time was an eye opener. Af­ter watch­ing the video and re­search­ing a bit, the 15-year mu­sic in­dus­try vet dis­cov­ered a stag­ger­ing statis­tic: over 360 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide are hear­ing im­paired. And while most of those af­flicted can ben­e­fit from treat­ment with such de­vices as hear­ing aids, only a frac­tion have ac­cess to the proper tech­nol­ogy. Determined “to recre­ate the mo­ment from the video on a larger scale,” she rang up a close friend, Joe Huff, who had re­cently left his own ca­reer in fash­ion with un­for­mu­lated but se­ri­ous al­tru­is­tic goals. “He had re­al­ized that the only im­por­tant thing in life is help­ing peo­ple,” says Brid­get, “and we both wanted to do some­thing that mat­tered.” At Brid­get's kitchen ta­ble, they be­gan to draw up a busi­ness plan.

Com­pa­nies like Warby Parker and TOMS had piqued the pair's in­ter­est in so­cial en­ter­prise, and within hours, Brid­get and Joe had set­tled on head­phones as their per­sonal con­duit for global

change. Thus, LSTN head­phones were born, a sleek, high-qual­ity mar­riage of Brid­get's pas­sion for mu­sic and Joe's de­sign acu­men. For ev­ery pair sold, LSTN works with the Starkey Hear­ing Foun­da­tion to help re­store hear­ing to a per­son in need.

Even if you know very lit­tle about in­stru­ments or acous­tics, you'll be im­pressed with the head­phones' clear, res­o­nant sound. Work­ing with a small fac­tory over­seas, Brid­get and Joe de­vised both over-ear and in-ear de­signs crafted from re­claimed wood, which Brid­get be­lieves cre­ates a su­pe­rior lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “Think of how many in­stru­ments are made of wood. Ma­te­rial af­fects sound,” Brid­get points out.

The com­bi­na­tion of wood and metal also makes for a sharp aes­thetic. Re­mem­ber how in mid­dle school, you were fairly cer­tain that, some­where in this world, an ob­ject ex­isted that would make you in­stantly cool? (This was in the pre-iPhone era—for me, at least.) Well, th­ese are the adult it­er­a­tion of those ado­les­cent imag­in­ings, and un­like the ac­ces­sories you dreamed up in mid­dle school, they're ac­tu­ally ef­fec­tive. And they're sold at Whole Foods! No joke, wear­ing them de­cid­edly makes you a bit more chic, and, more im­por­tantly, a bet­ter per­son.

I must ad­mit that, as a jour­nal­ist, it's in my na­ture to be cyn­i­cal. I like to know where my money is go­ing, and to be sure that any do­na­tion I make will re­ally have an im­pact. Brid­get ap­par­ently feels the same way. At least, it would ex­plain why since launch­ing LSTN in the spring of 2013, she and Joe have gone on four ma­jor mis­sions in the United States and abroad, tak­ing the time to dis­trib­ute hear­ing aids to “lines of lit­eral thou­sands,” she says. Over and over, she's wit­nessed first­hand the ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment when some­one hears for the first time; still, she vows that “watch­ing eyes light up never gets old.” At the time of press, LSTN had helped over 20,000 peo­ple in the United States, Kenya, Peru, and Uganda to hear.

For such a young, small com­pany, LSTN's in­ter­na­tional reach is im­pres­sive. Brid­get com­pleted two more ma­jor mis­sions to China and Sri Lanka in the sec­ond half of 2014. To date, the head­phones are avail­able for re­tail pur­chase in the United States, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as on­line, with goals to ex­pand the head­phones' brick-and-mor­tar reach to Ger­many and the UK this year. With all of the pos­i­tive press the com­pany has been re­ceiv­ing—YouTube high­lighted the com­pany in a cam­paign about small busi­nesses in 2013— LSTN seems well on its way to be­com­ing the next big thing.

As we wind down our con­ver­sa­tion, I can't help but pon­der aloud how it is that a com­pany with such a noble mission could have been born from such an or­di­nary act—by surf­ing the web, like I do ev­ery night. Ever non­cha­lant, Brid­get chuck­les and agrees. As we hang up, I'm still a lit­tle shell­shocked—can it re­ally be so sim­ple to change the world? LSTN's achieve­ments prove that a pos­i­tive global im­pact is some­times only a few clicks away.

OV E R 360 MIL­LION PEO­PLE WORLD­WIDE ARE HEAR­ING IM­PAIRED, AC­CORD­ING TO THE WORLD HEALTH OR­GA­NI­ZA­TION .

Rang­ing from $50 to $150, each pair of LSTN head­phones sold helps re­store hear­ing to a per­son in need.

Re­becca San­ti­ago is a New York-based writer and edi­tor, with by­lines at Ar­chitec

tu­ral Di­gest, Glam­our, Bus­tle, Bos­ton mag­a­zine, and more. She is an alumna of Tufts Uni­ver­sity. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at @reb­santi.

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