This is a modern story. Boy meets girl online — through a Craigslist post, but not that kind of Craiglist post. This boy and this girl aren’t looking for love but they are looking for purpose. When Steve Bernstein and Hannah Garrison meet, they establish almost immediate mutual admiration. So much so that they agree to found their company, Wear Your Music, the very same day.
Later will come Keith Richards, John Mayer, and nearly 200 other guitar heroes; later they will scrape together some half a million dollars — one guitar string bracelet at a time — and give it all to charity. But on this day back in 2006, high atop a Manhattan skyscraper, there is just the young, pull-no-punches Hannah Garrison, who sits down across the desk from longstanding magazine editor and Wall Street executive Steve Bernstein. He is wearing a suit, and she is wearing blue jeans. She says, “Hi, I’m Hannah. Very nice to meet you.”
Then working as publisher of Relix Magazine, Steve was plotting a way to sell more ads to guitar string companies. He thought that it would help if he could somehow encourage even non-guitarists to buy strings, so he’d posted the Craigslist ad offering money in exchange for the best idea for repurposing guitar strings. Within three hours, 160 responses appeared in his inbox. One of these was from Hannah, who was living nearby and happened to be trolling the classifieds on Craigslist.
When Hannah ran across Steve’s ad, she thought immediately of the elaborate guitar string bracelets she’d made for friends for years. A trained jeweler, she’d since graduated onto other jewelry-making ventures but her interest was piqued. And, having just returned from a year spent apprenticing with a jeweler in Mexico, she had no job at the time. So she emailed Steve.
“As soon as I read Hannah’s response, I said, ‘That’s it’ and I shut down the ad,” says Steve. “She came over and an hour later we set up the company.”
Hannah will take over the story from here.
“Steve was like, ‘How about making guitar string bracelets from famous peoples’ strings? And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’” recalls Hannah. “He’s like, ‘What about giving the money to charity?’ I’m like, ‘Charity and recycling — sounds like a plan. Let’s make a company.’ Looking back, it’s shocking that he would have put all this faith in me, but since day one he’s really trusted me. And the company’s become really successful, so he made a good decision.”
Together Steve and Hannah outlined the philosophy that still guides the company today — one that focuses on donating most all profits to charities, one that buoys the green movement by recycling terrific amounts of guitar strings, and one that needs little marketing effort because of the famous names attached to it.
These days Steve lives in Hong Kong, where he acts as CEO of Oppenheimer Investments, and Hannah lives in the tiny, now-defunct mill town Woonsocket, R.I., from which she runs Wear Your Music. Both Hannah and Steve donate their time to the company (as do most of the part-time employees) and conduct their meetings via Skype, navigating the 12-hour time difference with phone calls at odd hours.
When Hannah moved to Rhode Island in 2007, the Wear Your Music headquarters followed a couple years later. Today the company operates from a tiny office tucked inside an old stone building with wide windows. Hannah and her husband bought the place years ago; Millions of new and used guitar strings soon followed. Now, just adjacent to Hannah’s Ikea desk, the artist bracelets are organized in candy-colored pencil boxes and stacked to the ceiling. There’s a Pack n’ Play nearby, where her small daughter plays. Elsewhere there are cardboard boxes brimming with used guitar strings, which Hannah is putting to good use with the fairly new Rock Recycled line of jewelry.
In the company’s early days, a corner of the Relix offices doubled as its HQ. Things have changed a lot since then — not that the digs have gotten any glitzier, but the demand for product sure has. It used to be that Hannah crafted each and every bracelet by hand, but now she sends them off to be made by a jeweler who works in New York’s Diamond District. Another change: In the beginning they sold only what they call Artist Bracelets — bracelets made of guitar strings played by one of the more than 170 artists who have donated to Wear Your Music. The funds from each sale went to a charity of the artist’s choosing. They’ve since added the popular One-Size-Fits-All bracelets (available in gold, silver, black, red, pink, teal, and red-white-and-blue), which sell for $9.99. Durable, dynamic, and surprisingly chic, the product has taken off not only because of the company’s noble accomplishments but also because of the bracelets’ universal, unisex appeal.
The Rock Recycled bracelets are the most recent addition to the Wear Your Music product line. “We want to be the place where people send their used guitar strings,” says Hannah. “We don’t want to see any more guitar strings end up in a landfill.”
Reflecting on the enormous success of Wear Your Music, both Hannah and Steve say that’s what happens when you act on a really good, simple idea.
“People are always asking musicians to play their events for free for charity and time is money for musicians so if they can raise money for charity without putting in much of an effort, it’s almost a no-brainer,” says Steve.
Steve tells the story of late music pioneer Les Paul, who when donating his strings to Wear Your Music, proclaimed, “This is a really good idea!”
“No, inventing the electric guitar was a really good idea,” says Steve with a wry smile. “This idea is just kind of OK.” — Ellen Mallernee Barnes