If you have a child with a food allergy, you've probably felt the urge to practically tattoo warning signs on them to alert the world about their allergens and condition. I remember wearing a "Stop! Please Don't Feed Me" button when I was growing up in the 80's. The good news is, there is now incredibly sweet products from Allergy Pen Pals that can alert others, while helping to make allergies seem not too scary for kids.
We're thrilled to interview Michelle Barnett who is the owner of Allergy Pen Pals to learn more about her business, and her food allergy journey.
What gave you the idea for Allergy Pen Pals?
My son Bertie who was 18 months old at the time was due to start nursery. I wanted an allergy alert that I could put on his backpack that would be informative but kid-friendly. I looked everywhere but couldn't find what I was looking for. I have a creative background so I decided to create my own using fun food characters that children can relate to and would be more appealing. I started with stickers that children could wear at parties/nursery or put on lunchboxes and have since added keyrings, medical ID luggage tags, and personalised badges.
What’s your personal connection to food allergy?
My son was born during the COVID pandemic and from birth suffered with severe eczema and reflux. Due to the pandemic, we did not get the medical support I think we could/should have had and he was not seen face-to-face by a doctor to understand the severity. At 6 months old when we started weaning, his eczema worsened and he developed hives, wheeziness, and bowel problems. As I was completely unaware and naive about allergies, it wasn't until I did some research and paid privately to see a pediatrician that I suspected an allergy and that's when his egg allergy was confirmed. After cutting out eggs from his diet, his symptoms disappeared within 2-3 days which was incredible! At 13 months old, he had a bite of a vegan protein bar that had nuts in it, and within seconds, he was vomiting, very upset, and covered in hives. His tree nut and peanut allergies were diagnosed not long after. He was prescribed an EpiPen from the GP and after that, we were pretty much left to our own devices and that's when our allergy journey and the worry of being allergy parents truly began.
How do you hope your products will help children?
I have been surprised by how many allergy families are out there and suffering the same as us. I hope that wearing my products at parties/nursery/school/events will alert others about that child's allergies and will keep them as safe as possible. I know all parents experience anxiety and nervousness when leaving their child in someone else's care, it is only natural. The anxiety when your child has severe and life-threatening food allergies is further heightened especially when there is food around. I hope if there was ever a vital moment where your child is offered food or if they pick up food from the floor, the right person will see the alert whether that's a badge/sticker they are wearing or a keyring on their bag and make sure they are kept safe and could in all seriousness, save their life.
What has surprised you about running your business so far?
I launched my business Instagram page and have been so surprised about the amazing allergy community and the incredible parents out there who all help each other. They are constantly there for advice and support! A lot of my followers have helped me so much in many ways so thank you for that! Etsy has also been a great platform to help reach a new audience instead of from my social media page.
What’s been the most rewarding feeling or moment?
Getting feedback, reading reviews and seeing pictures of those cute children using my alerts. They really do make my day and I love receiving them in the hope that I am doing my bit to keep them safe. I have received endless thank yous from parents that have said their worries have been eased. One review stands out where the child was so proud of her keyring, she was showing all of her friends and ensuring they knew about her allergy and how to keep her safe! Read some further reviews here - https://www.etsy.com/shop/AllergyPenpals#reviews
Visit Allergy Pen Pal's Etsy shop and stock up on cute alert products!