I first became aware of Tinsel via social media a few months ago when a preview image of the brand-new wearable tech company’s first product crossed my social media path. What I saw looked like a superfly necklace, but the description said I was looking at headphones, and I was intrigued.
The Dipper audio necklace is the inaugural Tinsel item, and the sleek chevron design conceals earbuds that provide premium sound quality through the industry-standard 3.5mm audio connector. It presently comes in two color options (gold/silver and gunmetal/silver), and it also has a microphone and three button control for making calls or yelling at Siri or whatever you would ordinarily do with your headset.
I went from intrigue to fascination when I reached out and learned that Tinsel’s founder and CEO Aniyia Williams is a 29-year old Black woman, and I had the opportunity to sit down with the San Francisco-based visionary when she visited New York last week. Aniyia’s story of creating Tinsel is truly inspiring. She had been working as a part-time office manager at a company that makes a messaging app for smartphones, and rose in the ranks there to lead their marketing team, and while she enjoyed the atmosphere and the opportunities she had there, she wasn’t as fulfilled as she would have liked.
She had a passing idea about how to solve the problems she encountered daily in the constant use of headphones. Like many of us, Aniyia uses her headphones “all the time,” for phone calls, general communication, listening to music, and even learning it—she’s also a classically trained opera singer.
Aniyia pointed to her bag, which she described as a “gigantic black hole” but which was actually a lovely tote full of essentials just like what many of us carry every day, and said, “I was just super irritated that my headphones would always get buried at the bottom of my bag. Every time I wanted to use them, I was digging around for them, and when I found them I was untangling them for five minutes. Or my husband would take them thinking they were his, they would get lost, they would get worn out; I was buying several pairs a year. I thought it would be so much easier if I could just wear these on my body, but without them looking like headphones, because I spend too much time putting an outfit together to have it downgraded by plastic wires.”
Aniyia continued, “I thought to myself ‘someone has to have made this thing,’ and so I looked, but couldn’t find it anywhere.” The thought remained just a thought until she was reading about the launch of the Apple watch while on a flight last year. She says, “I started to think about other wearables, Fitbit was really just hitting the mainstream, and I thought maybe I should revisit this idea in the back of my head.”
Like many other ambitious and impactful ventures, Tinsel began with Aniyia quitting her job. In a bold move, as she was on her way out, she convinced the CEO of the app development company to make an initial financial investment in what would become Tinsel. He offered introductions to industry experts that Aniyia could learn from and eventually partner with, and her drive to take that first seed money and get to a point where the Dipper is mass-production-ready comes to fruition today with the launch of the Tinsel Indiegogo campaign.
Video by Dutton Films.
When she began Tinsel, Aniyia says “It was on trust and faith. I had the idea, but I had no idea how to do it, no background in manufacturing and making a tangible thing, let alone an electronic thing. To stretch those first dollars as far as possible has been a challenge, so I looked to people that I know and I called in a lot of favors. Anyone who has a skill that I can use, and they will lend it to me for free or very cheaply, I’m all about it.” Spoken like a true boss. One friend in particular really gave Aniyia the final push to break through the inevitable self-doubt that precedes such an endeavor, and that friend is now running the business and operations end of Tinsel. A friend from college happens to be a branding superstar who could help with the meticulously thought out marketing elements, and Aniyia even brought in her father to help with sales strategies.
She knows how fortunate she is to have had the backing of her former boss, whose introductions to manufacturers led to her meeting the Dipper’s industrial designer, also a young woman of color, who’s done design work in a wide range of fields, from electronics to her own line of clutches, to NASA. NASA!