How did the story begin?
Our story began when our oldest daughter was enrolled in secondary school. She had to walk for a long distance to get buses to school. We reside in the countryside of Warwickshire, and our village has no streetlights or pavement. As the evenings drew in, it was soon apparent that if she was walking along the road in her navy outfit, she appeared invisibly to drivers (have an eye on the picture below as well as our YouTube video to get a better understanding of what we’re talking about).
She wanted the freedom to walk up to the stop for the bus on her own. I wasn’t convinced. She was about turning 12 years old and had never had any real prior experience walking along an open road on her own. Whatever she seemed, I knew that accidents could happen, and this caused me to be nervous.
My husband and I began considering ways to help her become noticeable when she walked home. The apparent solutions, like an illuminating reflective coat or backpack, were quickly rejected as fashion-conscious, and, honestly, I mean, who would blame her? Who wants to be that youngster at secondary school where mom makes her wear a brightly coloured jacket?
Okay, we thought we could find the prince backpack that has lights. After searching the web, it was clear we wouldn’t get what we wanted. Could we find the perfect backpack that meets a teen’s requirements and still has the necessary safety features? No.
We added LED bike lights to her backpack, but with an experiment, we found it challenging. While they were very bright LEDs, the girl had to put the bike lights on the bottom of her bag throughout the day. She had to wait at the bus stop once she’d been off the bus to try to connect it in the darkness. It wasn’t an ideal long-term solution, but we made it through until Spring and only considered a little about it.
LED lights or EL wire?
However, during the winter of the following year, when the nighttimes suddenly turned dark, I began to consider whether designing a lighter-up bag by myself was feasible. It’s not like I’m the only parent concerned about their child’s safety as they walk home. So I asked myself: should I design a backpack with lights for teenagers, and how could I integrate lights into the design? Could I even create a backpack by myself and have it manufactured?
In early 2020 we know precisely the events that took place.
Covid struck, the lockdown was announced, and the world was transformed quickly.
I was suddenly promoted to the Head of Inspiring for School In The Kitchen, which has its difficulties! In my spare time using Google, I began researching whether it might be feasible to create an easy-to-use backpack.
I realized there are two lighting choices: LEDs and an EL wire. LED lights are similar to fairy lights that you can set around the room but are encased inside plastic tubing. EL wire can be described as a thin wire, often used in costume designs, that is lit when you pass an electrical charge through it. I purchased a variety of samples and, in the true Blue Peter fashion, mocked up a couple of lit-up backpacks using clips and tape.
Then I ran some (un)scientific tests, which included making my husband walk along the lane that runs near our home in the dark so that I could observe how visible he was. The results were quite interesting. EL wire is attractive when you’re close, but it’s almost inaccessible once you’re a long distance away. LED lights, however, are very bright, even from an extended length. EL wire also emits an emitted buzz when current passes through, which I believe would make people insane in the long run. Therefore, LED lights will never go down.
The next step was to transform sketch drawings into an idea for a prototyping LED backpack, which can be made. At first, I wanted to have the backpacks produced in the UK. However, it soon was apparent that this would not be economical. After a few internet rabbit holes, I came across a company owned by a Brit in China who would be willing to oversee production at a small, family-owned manufacturing facility.