Ever get tired of unraveling your earphones? Or trying to find them in your purse? Or feeling like a college student with an oversized set of white earbuds dangling from your ears above your Tracy Reese dress? Well Aniyia L. Williams has come up with the perfect solution: Earbuds that look like a fashionable necklace. Her new company, Tinsel, is readying for the debut this fall of its first product, an audio necklace known as the Dipper.
The Dipper is a jewelry piece with the full functionality of regular headphonesand features stainless steel chains plated with gold or gunmetal and silver, as well as anodized aluminum.
Even though Williams had never launched a business, she was determined to get her wearables for women to the marketplace. With co-founder Monia Santinello, Williams, 30, is creating a unique fashion tech brand. But it’s been a challenge. While she was shopping the idea around Silicon Valley looking for investors, Williams found out she was pregnant, which she worried might affect how potential investors treated her. She told The Next Web, “When I first found out I was pregnant, I was excited and equally terrified: I’m already a Black woman, now I have to add pregnant to the list. It was actually ridiculous! People didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was almost six months. I was afraid a person might not take a meeting for me or make an intro for me.”
In reality, Williams found many were people interested in the concept, so much so that Tinsel raised more than its goal of $50,000 in pre-orders, with The Dipper being retailed at $199. Here, Williams talks more about her unique creations as well as the increasing diversity in tech.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you come up with the idea for Tinsel?
Aniyia Williams (AW): Tinsel came from an idea I had when I was struggling with my headphones. My headphones would always be stuck at the bottom of my bag, I had to untangle them, they’d get lost, broken and I thought if I could wear them on my body that would be ideal. But I didn’t want to look like a DJ with a large pair of headphones, I wanted headphones that looked like jewelry. It was actually like two years ago that I was reading about the Apply Watch and I was thinking about a design for an audio necklace. I searched around for some and when I couldn’t find anything like that I decided, why not make it?
MN: How did you do it without any tech experience?
AW: I knew I needed someone to design it so I started talking to friends who were graphic designers. I thought about who I knew and I reached out to my boss at Voxer (a messaging app). I was actually ready to leave the job and he knew so, so I told him about the idea. He told me the type of designer I needed was an industrial designer and he thought I had a good idea and he introduced me to industrial designer Ed Kilduff, who became our advisor. Ed designed the rabbit wine opener, so he knows what he’s talking about. He led me to a design company, led by designer Lynda Rose, who already had manufacturing connections in China and she helped in the overall design of our project.
MN: So you got the help you need to get started?
AW: Yes, but Ed was very detailed in the nitty-gritty of the process, about all the things that could go wrong. And since I like a challenge, this did not discourage me; instead it made me want to do it more. I knew I needed money, but here I had two solid people on board and I knew I could get the product made. I was going to make it happen.
MN: Did you patent the idea?
AW: You know in the beginning I was very worried about this and I was very standoffish about who I shared the idea with and telling too much. But now I know this, there are so many moving parts to this that someone has to really, really, really want to take your idea. And I think even with NDAs (nondisclosure agreements), people still will talk. But we do have some patents. Things will always be counterfeited regardless of all the patents you have.
MN: You are manufacturing the product in China. Did you have to visit to locate contacts?
AW: Ed and Lynda had contacts with factories in China. And when we went, my partner and I, who is Italian, we would speak in Italian during negotiations so the Chinese would not know what we were talking about. I studied Italian in school. We were trying to negotiate the best deal possible.
MN: Why did you design the product for women only?
AW: The Dipper is definitely geared toward women. There’s a drum I have been beating for a long time about women being more involved in designing products for women. Sure you do have many products for women but a lot of time they are the same product for men, just in a pink version.
MN: As you get deeper in the tech world, do you feel it’s becoming increasingly diverse?
AW: Yes and no. Because I am a woman of color, by extension I know there are some women of color in tech–but not on the hardware side. I can count on one hand how many women of color there on the hardware side. On our team we have several women of color–I have even tapped my family and friends and used their skills. And I know they have my back. My grandmother is an accountant so she keeps our books. My dad helps out too.
I am also working to help get more women of color involved. Right now I am an Entrepreneur in Residence at Code2040 for Google. Through this I have activities to get more Blacks and Latinos in tech. I look at what do we do to get more engineers of color and more entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons there aren’t more is due to a lack of access. White people organically have these connections; they have all these lottery tickets. So my thing is how can we get more lottery tickets for people of color.
Williams is more than on her way to figuring it out. Her first shipment of The Dipper has already sold out. But you can get on the waiting list now to be one of the first notified when more are available.