Photo/Image courtesy of Tapio Aulu
Jenni Ahtiainen is a badass from Finland. Make no mistake, when she enters a room, all eyes are on her. There’s something tough about her, but something entirely accessible. She’s part punk rock and part fashionista. And she knows how to own an audience with her wicked sense of humor.
Ahtiainen is also hearing impaired. Her company, Deafmetal, seeks to transform the world of hearing loss with her own style and creativity—her designs vary from pineapples, owls and things she would have never designed if it wasn’t for Deafmetal. (There are 300 million hard of hearing people in the world). Hearing aids, it turns out, can be fashion statements. At least at the hands of Ahtiainen.
We got a chance to sit down with the accessory designer to learn more about her story, her company, and her advice for a successful startup.
What inspired you to create and launch Deafmetal?
I’ve been designing bags, bracelets, jewelry and neckwear for people like Marilyn Manson, Snoop Dogg — even Bono has one of my scarfs.
About a year ago I went to see a doctor because my hearing was getting worse (and I’m a huge music fan, so this was bad).
Communication and conversation was becoming almost impossible for me. I was losing my hearing. I was becoming deaf. In order to hear, I needed hearing aids in both of my ears. For life.
My first reaction was shock. Then I started to cry. I told my drummer friend Alina, who laughed and wisely said “But hey, you’re not the only one. You’re not alone.” I should note that Alina is half-deaf, too
Why was I in shock? What was the reason? I thought to myself, if you have bad eyesight, you can choose stylish eyeglasses. But if you have bad hearing, you are stuck with really, really ugly looking hearing aids for the rest of your life.
This was problematic.
But I got my hearing aids and put the shit behind my ears and started to accept my fate. Because I’m a designer, it was natural for me to fancy them up a bit. First, I made a small leather holster around the hearing aids, and then I hung some leather strips. And, voila! I felt more like me.
I took a picture of this new innovation – bejeweled hearing aids. I posted it on Facebook thinking nothing of it.
I unplugged for a bit and went to sauna with my family. But once I got back, something was afoot. My post was spreading like hell amongst hard of hearing people. Dare I say it? It went viral.
In very short time, the post had 220,000 views. The next week, Finland’s hearing association contacted me. The media was all around asking questions and the first hearing aid manufacturer contacted me as well. I had become the embodiment and ambassador of hearing disorders. How cool is that?
After two months, Deafmetal was born. Success was swift. Deafmetal won “The 2018 New Product” prize in the biggest handicraft trade show in Europe. And, more recently, Deafmetal took second place at CBC’s Global Finals in Denmark.
It’s been a good year.
Tell us how you came up with the name Deafmetal?
When I was making the first Instagram post, Deafmetal came to my head like a light. It refers to metal as a silent material around the hearing aid. Deaf metal… silent material. Also the word Deafmetal fits me as a designer. I totally look like “Deafmetal” – and I’m damn proud of it.
How has the market received your product?
It’s been remarkable. The Deafmetal Community is spreading. We are telling true stories about hard of hearing people as “Deafmetal Stories.”
These stories are empowering to people and help build our community. But, as with all startups, there’s a lot to be done.
Right now we are designing collections (see picture) in our Deafmetal website (www.Deafmetal.store) and we are starting to retail in eyeglass stores. We are also designing collections to hearing aid companies and designing custom made and profile targeted collections to them. Two collections are done.
Photo/Image courtesy of Petri Mast
What are your biggest challenges?
Time. We’ve got to move fast – we don’t want any copycats. We are trying to make the Deafmetal brand as strong and visible as possible.
What’s your advice to aspiring startups and entrepreneurs?
Be yourself no matter what. Authenticity is the absolute key. Your personality is unique, not what you think is unique. When it’s authentic, it is empowering. Focus on quality, not shit. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.