Bracket Ears: A family business with a charitable bent

  • From left, McKenzie, 14, Gigi, 10, Christopher, 16, and their dad Dr. Casey Crafton, co-owner of Crafton Dental in Columbia with his wife Dr. Lisa Crafton, not pictured. The Craftons created Bracket Ears, earrings made to look like the brackets on dental braces.
From left, McKenzie, 14, Gigi, 10, Christopher, 16, and their… (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun…)
September 02, 2014|Janene Holzberg | For The Baltimore Sun

What if braces were considered fashionable and could actually boost a patient’s self-esteem?

That was the question on the minds of the daughters of a Columbia pediatric dentist when they hit upon the idea of Bracket Ears — earrings made from oversized, surgical steel brackets that come with colorful bands to match with your braces.

And further, what if a portion of the profits was tied to charitable contributions?

“I never imagined I would be doing this,” says Dr. Casey Crafton of Crafton Dental, located off Old Columbia Road in Kings Contrivance. “My friends from the dental school are getting a kick out of it.”

A philanthropic bent

Crafton, who is also a lawyer and professor, now oversees a burgeoning line of Bracket Ears products that also includes rhinestone-studded bracelets and whimsical silicone charms — on top of the dental practice he runs with his dentist wife, Lisa, who sees adult patients.

Six months after traveling to China in summer 2012 to research manufacturers, Crafton obtained a patent for Bracket Ears earrings. He gives them to female patients in a bright orange-and-aqua jeweler’s box that flips open to reveal the gleaming prize inside.

“Girls love them,” says Crafton, who can also fit patients’ American Girl dolls with Bracket Ears.

The earrings are also sold at Amazon.com and at bracketears.com, where a portion of the net proceeds goes to autism research. The bracelets and charms, which were added this year, are also now handed out at the dental office.

“It’s a win-win-win situation: patients are happy, they refer other patients and money goes to a good cause,” he says.

But aside from selling them online and to dentists to build their practices, Crafton saw an opportunity to make an even bigger difference.

Now small business owners are selling Bracket Ears and are required to donate a portion of their proceeds to a charity of their choice, and nonprofits are being brought on board to sell the line as a fundraising tool to benefit their own organizations.

Gerilyn Pats, who sells fashion accessories at Eleven Treasures in Highland and Glenelg, says Bracket Ears bracelets are the perfect fit for her business, which uses the slogan, “Look forward. Give back.”

“I already was giving 5 percent of my sales to the American Heart Association and breast cancer research, so this concept fit right in,” said Pats, who estimates she’s donated $15,000 in cash and merchandise since opening in 2009. She will begin selling the rhinestone-studded bracelets in the fall to benefit her two favorite charities.

Bracket Ears recently reached agreements with three nonprofits to sell its products: The Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities in Towson; The Arc, a nonprofit that aids people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Washington, D.C.; and Opportunity Builders Inc., a provider of vocational training and services for persons with developmental disabilities in Millersville.

Crafton, who lives with his family in Chevy Chase, also gave a supply of Bracket Ears to Amy Hollingsworth, a longtime patient who teaches middle school students with autism in Midlothian, Va.

“It was so wonderful of Dr. Crafton to make that donation, and we are thrilled that we were able to fund a sensory room for our students with the money we raised,” says Hollingsworth.

Teaching generosity

Before Bracket Ears got started, Crafton had no plans to get involved in the fashion industry. 

He did, however, believe strongly in helping others, following an example set by his mother when he was growing up in Rockville. Tragically, his family was spurred to raise funds in memory of his older brother, Chris, who was killed in a plane crash in 1984 at age 21.

Three years ago, Crafton’s 16-year-old son, Christopher, approached his dad about participating in a charity bike ride for autism together since his parents’ dental practice sees quite a few patients with the disorder.

“I really like biking and I definitely felt this was something we should do,” says the teen.

In August 2012, the father and son pair tackled the 100-mile Bike to the Beach charity ride that goes from Washington to Dewey Beach, Del., and benefits Autism Speaks. In August, Crafton’s 10-year-old daughter, Gigi, joined them by riding on a tandem bike with her dad.

But Gigi and older sister McKenzie, 14, also wanted to find their own unique way to give back. Chatting with their dad one day, the idea of creating earrings to coordinate with braces casually came up. Everyone thought it was a winner.

A few weeks after rolling out the earrings at the American Association of Orthodontists Conference in Philadelphia in April 2013 — where Crafton sold 3,000 pairs in three days — Dentsply GAC, a dental equipment and supplies manufacturer based in New York, contacted him with an offer to distribute Bracket Ears. The company has ordered $14,000 worth of earrings and $4,000 worth of bracelets so far, and will donate $1 per sale to charity.

Since then, it’s been proven over and over that you don’t have to wear braces to enjoy wearing Bracket Ears.

“Everyone keeps asking me where I got them, so I’ve given away 50 pairs,” says Gigi, who figured out that the dangling earring charms also make a nice charm bracelet on a family sightseeing and brainstorming trip last summer in China. 

McKenzie, who came up with the idea to inset the brackets with clear rhinestones on the same trip, finds that her school friends like that the bracelets’ adjustable woven bands come in a variety of colors.

“Since we wear a skirt-and-polo uniform, these bracelets let you be an individual,” she says.

Dr. Lisa Crafton gives credit to her husband for seeing the merits of what began as a simple idea.

“Casey had the vision, and he’s really been good about seeing it through,” she says. “For our girls to have an idea and see it come about, and know that [the money] is going to a good cause, has just been great.”

For Casey Crafton, who is thinking about creating a lapel pin or tie clip for male patients, it all goes back to a strong desire to lead by example.

“If you can start kids thinking about helping others, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Smart is good, but you’ve got to have a good heart.”  

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