Wiping out Disposable Electronics with Modular Headphones: An Interview with Tom Leenders

Tom Leenders and Gerrard Street

Tom Leenders is one of the co-founders of Gerrard Street, a brand producing modular headphones designed to be infinitely repairable. Tom graduated with a MSc in Integrated Product Design from TU Delft and has since been responsible for product and operations at Gerrard Street, which he co-founded after his graduation, about six years ago. 

50 million tons of electronics are thrown away annually, so Tom and his co-founder Dorus Galama started Gerrard Street to transition away from our current throwaway culture. Gerrard Street headphones, named after musical legends, such as Billie Holiday and Prince, are built of seven modules which can be easily taken apart and put together. If a module is broken, the part is replaced by Gerrard Street for free, and the damaged parts are reused or repaired, to meet their circular mission of never throwing away. 

A growing demand for circular devices 

Since the founding of Gerrard Street, the brand’s propositions have changed, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gerrard Street shifted their focus to a business-to-business channel as companies invested in electronics for their employees to work from home during the pandemic. On top of that, a buy model was added to their previously subscription-based model, where headphones were rented as a service, rather than owned. 80% of Gerrard Street’s current sales are in the buy model, as people increasingly wish to own a circular device. Gerrard Street’s unique advantage was in their subscription model, however, as the buy model was introduced, their unique selling proposition shifted to their commitment to sustainability, attracting previously unexpected customer segments, such as females and older customers. 

Is sustainability mainstream? 

As the sustainability aspect becomes more important for Gerrard Street’s continued growth, Tom is continuing to explore whether sustainability is big enough to move the brand from the niche market of sustainable products to the mainstream market. He makes a point not to oversell the words ‘sustainability’, ‘circularity’, or ‘circular design’ in marketing, and adopts a more pragmatic messaging by promising customers that Gerrard Street simply fixes things. 

“Sustainability can be a very serious business”, says Tom. To make it mainstream, Gerrard Street is focused on quality and building a cool brand that people are attracted to, seeing the sustainable impact as an added bonus. 

The future of Gerrard Street

Gerrard Street envisions a future as an international worldwide audio brand, not just selling headphones, but other products such as speakers, wireless earbuds etc. The challenge in this is the repair service model, which is currently based in the Netherlands and how to achieve this abroad. Extending the product line is also challenging as certain products such as wireless earbuds are not designed to be repairable.