With cramped subway cars, a flourishing pigeon population, and parking spots more elusive than a believable Bill Murray sighting, living in New York City takes a certain kind of tenacity and thick skin for those of us lucky enough to call this great city home. And while world-class entertainment, unparalleled bagels, and myriad of other reasons may provide us with enough to stick around, it wouldn't hurt to be rewarded for our tenacity in a more visible way from time to time. Cue Hello We Are’s New York merit badges, which document the milestones in a city we love to endure with specially designed patches, each focusing on a different aspect of the NYC lifestyle.
Hello We Are’s Emily Rothschild, along with her design partner Tom Weis, first brainstormed the idea of the badges for the American Design Club’s Trophy exhibition last spring, polling people for their feedback. “I actually just reached out to a number of people—everybody lived here—and just asked them for things they survived daily,” she says. “What are things you overcome as a New Yorker in your everyday life?”
Whittling down the options was difficult. The upside? Researching quickly turned Rothschild into a trivia team V.I.P – each patch comes with an accompanying card chock-full of facts and figures from the city. “It was sort of a combination of looking up weird and interesting facts about these topics, and almost getting as interested in the facts as the visual and having them play off each other,” Rothschild says.
Right now there are nine patches, each designed by Rothschild and embroidered by an outside company. One of our favorites? The include Columbidae patch, which rewards its wearer for surviving a 1:1 people to pigeons ratio (“you could host a pigeon if you have a spare room, which I never knew about”). Also notable is the Commuter, which includes mentions of the subway’s hidden station and a Brooklyn Heights brownstone housing MTA equipment.
“I’ve been a New Yorker my whole life and it’s kind of satisfying to put numbers to these things,” Rothschild says. “You know how hard it is to park your car, but really seeing that New York City cars are parked 90-percent of the time is part of the fun for me.”
But Rothschild doesn’t want to limit the patches just to New York natives and transplants. They can also celebrate visiting tourists mastering different aspects of the city. “If you’re someone who’s coming into the city for a day or a week or a visit and you feel like you’ve gotten the subway system down, there’s a badge for commuting,” she says. “They’re something that obviously you can wear if you live here and be proud one way, but if you’re visiting you can still be connected to them.” There’s also room to explore a future for the badges in classrooms (both Weis and Rothschild’s husband are educators).
The patches just became available to the public this winter, but Rothschild already has her eye on future sources of inspiration, ranging from the beauty of commuting through Grand Central to the local food scene to more personal achievements, like surviving the subway with her one-and-a-half year old, stroller, and dogs. The one thing she doesn’t see in the immediate future is slowing down.
“They’re such a random object, but they’re particularly satisfying in person. There’s something really beautiful about the quality of the patch itself and its transformation to textile,” she says. “It’s kind of addictive, I’m not going to lie. I want to do a lot more.”