LSTN: Like Warby Parker For Fancy Headphones

LSTN gives most of their profits away and has outfitted 15,000 people in need in developing countries.

The Buy One Give One (B1G1) business model has gotten a lot of traction in the last few years. Supporting social causes is key to feel-good experience design, but it also improves the public image of the companies who do it.

Warby Parker is famous for this: Buy a pair of glasses and they distribute funding or glasses to a nonprofit who sell affordable specs in developing countries. Now a new headphones company, LSTN, is trying out a similar business model—but with the gift of sound instead of sight. They've completely trumped the 1:1 affordable-glasses model, however, by giving the bulk of their profits to the Starckey Hearing Foundation.

It doesn't stop there. Co-founders Joe Huff and Bridget Hilton take an active role in distributing hearing aids. They go with the foundation to such places as Peru, Uganda, and Kenya, and help locals who lack access to hearing equipment get fitted for hearing aids. By their count, they’ve restored hearing for 15,000 people.

LSTN started when Hilton, a music industry veteran who worked for record labels and music venues, saw a video of a woman with restored hearing, listening to sounds and music for the first time. The video resonated strongly with Hilton, whose career has been shaped by music. She partnered with Huff, who previously worked at Toms, and they launched LSTN, an alternative to Apple or Beats-branded gadgets.

"Even though it’s a saturated market, there weren’t any headphones we would purchase ourselves," Hilton tells Co.Design. "We don’t wear the neon plastic kind of headphones." The actual headphones are aesthetically in line with companies (Warby Parker, Toms) who do similar work: They're pared down, and have muted, organic colors. Huff and Hilton source the wood from furniture and flooring companies, whose pieces generate leftover scraps. "You can't make furniture with them, but the scraps are plenty big to make things like ear buds and headphones with," Huff says. "Plus we get access to exotic woods that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to."

It’s the founders’ intent to appeal to a younger group of consumers: "It’s important to get that information in front of young people," Huff says. "We started by describing our product as being for anyone who shops at Whole Foods, and now we’re the first headphones to be sold in Whole Foods."

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