Sootmegs aka Bryony Bird
Bryony Bird’s work is super close to my heart and not only because I’m obsessed with badges.
In 2014 I was super sick and permanently lost the hearing in my right ear, it’s known in the business as sudden hearing loss. It was a traumatic experience but one which I learned from – we are precious and we can break. It bought home to me how fragile we can be, how fleeting life is and that you’ve gotta be the person you want to be right now. It brought mental health issues to the front of my mind and that brings me back to these clever badges, each one a perfectly simple piece of communication.
Sootmegs pins are super simple, very affordable and get straight to the point in a friendly and playful way. They often explain the things that you can’t see, I frequently wear my “hearing impaired” pin. It does more than explain why I might ignore you or over concentrate and weird you out when you’re talking to me, it starts conversations. This isn’t something I anticipated, it is a game changer for both myself and others in a similar situation and all from one simple little button badge.
And so for my first maker interview I contacted Bryony to find out more about Sootmegs…
Where did the name Sootmegs come from?
Sootmeg is a maladjusted but enthusiastic cat character, based on a cat puppet I have. I think in the beginning it was more fun to pretend to myself that an imaginary cat was running the shop and not me.
Your products are super affordable, effective and help people. I imagine that you’ve been in close contact with disability. How did this theme come about?
Some of my close friends are disabled. When I first started out, I made badges for them. I also spent some time doing PA work for people with disabilities, which really opened my eyes to some of the misconceptions around disability. I was astounded at how the people I worked with were often treated so differently by strangers who didn’t have bad intentions, but behaved offensively due to their lack of understanding. I wanted to do something to help.
You choose to put them on, and they’re visible until you take them off. They’re small and light so you can carry several around with you at once and change them as you want throughout the day. They’re flexible in that way. Also, there aren’t many products out there that cover subjects like disability, mental health or neurodiversity that are fun and colourful too. If you can make a practical object joyful, why not?
Do you wear any of your badges yourself?
Yes, I wear badges most days. I carry a selection around in a little box so they’re there if I want them. The ones I wear the most at the moment are: ‘I haven’t slept’ with ‘I don’t feel like talking’, ‘I have ADHD’, ‘I’m finding it hard to concentrate’, ‘I need some time alone’, ‘Ask before you touch’, ‘I don’t want to give you a smile strange man’ and ‘I’m pretending I know what you’re talking about’.
What inspires and makes your heart beat faster?
Singing and outdoor swimming.
What are you most grateful for within your work?
That I can make a positive impact, and be my own boss at the same time. My pins are intended to help people, and I regularly get messages from customers telling me how my badges have made their lives easier. It gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment that makes every day better.
Going through the school system with undiagnosed ADHD is extremely difficult. I was constantly told that I wasn’t trying hard enough because I couldn’t focus in class or remember my homework, and I was eventually expelled. Working within a system which is not designed for you, means you can barely keep up, never mind reach your potential. Now that I’m working for myself, and living by my own rules, I finally feel like I’m good enough.
What are your future aspirations for Sootmegs…?
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. It’s about communication and raising awareness. Essentially it’s about getting people to be kinder and more supportive of one another.
Felt tips or paint brushes?
Audio or Video?
Digital or Print?
Digital – but only because I’m less likely to lose it
80’s or 90’s?
Instagram or facebook?
Brighton or Hove?
Brighton – for the vibrancy.
You can get the world to listen to one tune – what would it be…?
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit. Described as ‘the first unmuted cry against racism’, it’s a strikingly beautiful and macabre protest song, and its powerful message of tolerance is still sadly relevant today.
So now you know. We will all go and listen to Strange Fruit and get some pins! They great little gifts to send to friends and wear on those days when you need a little extra help. Order from the Sootmegs Etsy Store 🙂
Posted in: Maker interviews