Crafty young entrepreneur

HOLLIS – We’ve all heard of precocious children who display musical talent or invent something clever at a young age, but not many children have a vision at age 5 for a patentable product that will help people and then open a successful business while still in primary school.

Hayleigh Scott, of Hollis, did just that. She and her twin sister, Vienna, are 14. They were born prematurely. Due to serious medical complications, Hayleigh has had lung problems with several near-death episodes and lengthy hospitalizations. She experienced hearing loss as a result of medications she received as an infant, and has worn hearing aids since she was 18 months old.

While attending a school for the deaf when she was 5, Hayleigh noticed that many of her classmates tried to hide their hearing aids behind their hair. Instead of feeling self-conscious, she decided to be proud of hers, and wanted to accessorize them.

“I was drawing pictures at my grandmother’s table and told her I was drawing charms for hearing aids,” she said. “She thought it was a cute idea and didn’t realize I wanted to do this as a business. I kept drawing them, then my mom helped me figure out how to make them.”

Hayleigh and her mom, Rachel, purchased jewelry supplies at crafts stores, just like what one would use to make earrings, and modified the design so the charm would slip over a hearing aid tube rather than hang from a hook for pierced earrings. They sold her designs at small fairs in the area, and in 2009, at age 10, she officially launched her website, www.hayleighscherishedcharms.com.

There are dozens of charm designs available, ranging from Disney characters, animals, geometric shapes, snowflakes, Swarovski crystals and colorful beads to sparkly bling. Other charms include cars, guitars, soccer balls, footballs, skulls, dragons and the like. She varies her designs according to the season and holidays, and also makes them available as pierced earrings so friends and siblings can match.

Thanks to modern technology, she can also create custom charms from pictures. So far, she has created charms featuring celebrities, sports logos, monogram initials, Mickey Mouse hands and Boston Strong.

“I have charms for all different ages, both boys and girls, and all different themes,” she said. “Some times like Christmas and Easter are busier, then there are also birthdays. Orders are usually multiples because customers want more than one set or to share with a friend.”

In 2010, Hayleigh was the recipient of the Oticon Focus on People Student award. Oticon, a major producer of hearing aids, wanted to recognize Hayleigh’s efforts to make people less self-conscious about their devices. Hayleigh got to travel to Wisconsin to be honored at its national conference and got to meet Miss Deaf USA 2010, Michelle Koplitz.

“She was only 11 and spoke in front of hundreds of audiologists,” said Rachel, beaming with pride over her daughter’s achievement and poise. “She never did this for the spotlight or for attention, but she has been put in that role and is very confident.”

After that recognition, her sales really accelerated. She now has customers across the U.S. and in several countries, including Great Britain, France and Japan. A teacher for the deaf in Brunei is one of her newest international customers.

“The teacher was having issues with kids keeping their aids in and hopes these will encourage them to wear their aids and cochlear implants,” Hayleigh said.

“She really relates to the kids,” Rachel added. “She volunteered to make a video for the class in Brunei and encouraged them to be confident in who they are.”

In addition to the charms that hang down like earrings, Hayleigh designs tube twists – colorful strands of silicone that decorate the tubes that loop from the hearing aid insert over the ear. She was just 8 when she applied for a U.S. patent for her design. That application is still pending, but she already holds two provisional patents for her tube twists.

She still has her original prototype and other versions to show how the current product evolved.

“When I first came up with the idea of tube twists, I had wire with cloth around it,” she explained, “but it doesn’t look as nice. Then I used polymer clay, which looks cleaner but breaks easily. I liked that it was non-toxic so younger kids could have it.”

While at a conference with hearing aid producer Westone, she spoke to their engineers about her idea, and they made her some samples out of silicone.

“They were indestructible and looked nice but there were wires, so they weren’t non-toxic,” she said. Hayleigh insisted her design be both unbreakable and non-toxic, and eventually, Westone modified one of their machines so it would produce long silicone strips without wires.

“At the conference, Westone took some of Hayleigh’s tube twists and asked someone to see if they could make them using just silicone,” Rachel said. “They didn’t tell them it was a child’s idea until later.”

She explained how Westone offered to produce the strips and sell them to her. In keeping with her independent spirit, Hayleigh insisted on keeping control over production and price, and bought the equipment instead of the partially finished product.

She uses her one-of-a-kind machine in her home workshop, an enclosed porch off the kitchen.

The machine is hand-cranked, and she dyes the tubes herself, often mixing colors, before cutting the long strands down to size. She still has to rely on Westone for supplies since the silicone and dyes are not available to the public, and for parts/repairs to keep the custom machine operational.

The tube twists are available in a variety of colors, from pastel to neon, solid and two-tone. Not one to settle for the status quo, Hayleigh is now attempting to create sparkly tube twists.

“So far it’s trial and error,” she said. “Some don’t show up, but if you use too many sparkles, they fall off. I need them to be perfect before producing them for sale.”

One of her goals is to have audiologists offer samples of her products to their patients, as well as information about her charms. In addition, she donates 10 percent of her sales to hearing health research and education.

Hayleigh is not the only successful entrepreneur in the Scott family. The first one to have her own business was her twin sister Vienna, who sewed and sold Super Sassy Purses at a hair salon. Sarah, 11, made and sold tote bags. Today, the three sisters focus on their “sister sets,” Hayleigh makes the hearing aid charms, Vienna makes necklaces and Sarah makes bracelets and rings.

For more information, visit www.hayleighs
cherishedcharms, her Facebook page of the same name or follow her on Twitter at cherishedcharms.