Sootmegs’ latest range of badges deal with issues that have come about from the global covid-19 pandemic, with statements such as ‘Please stay 2 metres away’, ‘I’m social distancing’  and ‘Please cover your coughs and sneezes’.

But one new design which states ‘I can’t lip read through your mask’, has become the third most popular badge in the Sootmegs Etsy store just four months after being introduced.

The design has sold over a thousand units, in small and large sizes, since it launched in early June 2020.

Etsy reviews for the badge praise the functional and awareness-raising design.

“My daughter is profoundly deaf. This has been great for her while shopping, in cafes and hospital appointments. It gave her ease not having to try and explain to everyone.” said purchaser Sharon Johnstone.

“It’s a small thing to wear a badge, but these small assertive actions can play a part in making big changes to the way society thinks about itself.” said Bryony Bird, creator of Sootmegs.

When Brighton-based Bryony went to a music festival in 2010, she could not have predicted that she would come out of the weekend with two things – a black eye and an idea for a successful business.

While dancing at the festival, Bryony was headbutted by fellow attendee and developed dramatic bruising and swelling around her eye. As the following weeks passed, she became increasingly frustrated with the attention her black eye was attracting, so she made herself a badge that said ‘Don’t ask about my eye, I’m bored of talking about it.’

In the following months, she produced more communicative badges for herself and her friends, covering topics such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and invisible disabilities.

In 2013, Bryony established the Sootmegs Etsy Shop to bring these useful accessories to a wider audience and began expanding the range of designs to cover a wide range of statements from illnesses and neurodiversity to sexuality, gender identity and issues such as racism and transphobia.

“I spoke to people with different sets of needs to find out what they would like others to know at a glance and then made badges to say what people couldn’t, or didn’t want to.

“Seeing others wearing the badges can make people realise that they’re not alone, that they’re part of a wider community. Wearing these badges is like raising a voice, saying, ‘this is me’, ‘this is my issue too’, or ‘these are my needs’, ‘these are my boundaries’.” said Bryony.

In terms of the future, Bryony is planning to expand into other products and increase the number of subjects covered by the communicative badges. She hopes that one day the badges will become the norm for many people.

“I want communicative badges to take over the world. I would love them to become a part of day-to-day life, so that when you meet someone new, you look to see if they’re wearing any, and what they’d like you to know.” said Bryony.

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