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How a Queer Artist’s Designs Are Empowering the LGBTQ+ Community

Find out how this Richmond-based designer is using colorful pins and patches to create a safer space for people of all gender identities.

By Tess Duncan Jun 19, 2018
Double Denim Dude shop owner Sam Moyer-Kardos
Photography by Nick Davis

As an artist who identifies as non-binary and uses both they/them and she/her pronouns, Sam Moyer-Kardos’s experience as a queer person drives much of the work in their shop, Double Denim Dude. “My items are about owning your identity and not being afraid to be who you are,” says the Richmond, Virginia-based designer. “I want my brand to help people come together to support one another.” An Etsy seller since 2013, Sam makes pins, patches, and other accessories that allude to the wearer’s gender identity, helping amplify the voice of the LGBTQ+ community. (Sam asked to be identified by they/them pronouns for this interview.)

The popular pronoun pins in Sam’s shop were first inspired by a request from coworkers. While working as a baker at an organic grocery store, they noticed staff members were often misgendered in conversation. “Our team at work is very accepting of different identities, but it sometimes slips people's minds when they see someone who looks feminine and can’t separate that visually,” Sam explains. Last year when a coworker asked if Sam made pronoun buttons to help combat the discomfort of correcting people outright, Sam was excited by the opportunity to provide a solution for the community.

At the time, Sam offered items related to gender identity, including “Gay” pinback buttons and enamel pins reading “I came out,” but none that specifically announced pronoun usage. They immediately got to work on designs that clearly declared “They|Them,” “She|Her,” and “He|Him.” “I wanted to create a badge for people to wear at work that would subtly remind others of their preferred pronouns,” says Sam. Donning a Double Denim Dude pin became a seamless way for individuals to communicate gender identity to others.

Since then, Sam’s pronoun designs have thrived in their Etsy shop and the product line has grown to include patches, pennants, and other sports-themed apparel. We recently talked with Sam about how their shop creates a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and the role of the Etsy marketplace in their creative journey.

Double Denim Dude pronoun pinback buttons
The Double Denim Dude “They|Them” products are now some of Sam’s best-selling items.

What inspires the aesthetic for Double Denim Dude?

I grew up playing sports, which always felt like a place of belonging for me. The team aesthetic aligns with the concept of solidarity and uniforms, and I wanted to create something similar with my shop—a safe space for queer people. I like the idea that an object like a pin or a patch can be used to visually represent a group, and that we can have our own team where statistics don’t matter.

Double Denim Dude enamel pins
Many of Sam’s enamel pins feature their own take on classic tattoo motifs, such as roses, skulls, and hearts wrapped with banners. Sam even got a tattoo on their forearm of their skeleton cowboy enamel pin from a local tattoo artist. “I asked her to do her own variation of it and gave her a physical pin to keep,” says Sam. “Now whenever I wear my pin, people ask which one came first."

The traditional tattoo symbolism you see in some of my Double Denim Dude products is inspired by the tattoo community in Richmond. It’s a dominant part of the culture here, and I love how versatile the imagery is. Skulls and grim reapers are definitely classic designs, but I interpret them in my own way, like with the “R.I.P anxiety” enamel pin. The skeleton reaper hand is holding an envelope, representing a farewell message to my anxiety as a slightly hopeful way of coping and trying to overcome it. That imagery holds a lot of weight for me, and there’s a rawness to it. It reminds me that while whichever path I take will have hardship, there’s a lot to gain from the journey.

Double Denim Dude pinback buttons
Sam learned how to make pinback buttons after buying a steel press online. “I still love using it as a quick way of getting an idea out,” says Sam. “I’ll be on the couch thinking of a design and can create it right in that moment.”

How does your experience as a queer person influence your business?

It’s very intentional that I describe Double Denim Dude as a queer-owned shop, because I want to be authentic as a voice for the LGBTQ+ community. Every day I feel like I’m coming out to strangers. I look different than a “normal,” feminine person, and in certain areas, like my hometown, I’m still very uncomfortable. There are different spaces where you’re more vulnerable as an LGBTQ+ person, and there’s a push and pull to how you want to represent yourself.

Sam packing orders for Double Denim Dude
Double Denim Dude products Sam keeps in touch regularly with a community of other queer Etsy sellers who share advice with one another through group messages. Sam connected with their current production partners after asking for tips in the thread, and their fellow shop owners were happy to offer recommendations.

As an artist, I’m more of a visual person, so it can be hard to find the words sometimes. I identify as non-binary and it’s hard to have to announce that. The culture of non-binary is still so new that people often don’t grasp the concept of using they/them pronouns. People want to gender others, but you can’t assume anything. Plus, my name is androgynous, and combined with the “dude” in my shop name I frequently get emails saying things like “Good evening, sir.” I’m misgendered all the time. That’s why I love creating these products, especially the pronoun items. I struggle with how to label myself in the world, and it’s encouraging to know that my customers are really owning it. They’re choosing to wear this badge of honor and take a stand, like, “This is who I am.”

Sam at work in their studio
Sam at work, creating a pinback button (left) and fulfilling orders on their laptop (right). Sam first sold their original art in their shop as Sam Kardos Prints, but rebranded as Double Denim Dude in 2015 when they started selling enamel pins. Now their workspace doubles as a painting studio where they create portraits of sports icons in their free time.

What’s your most memorable Etsy purchase?

Back in 2015 I bought a custom engagement ring for my wife on Etsy. The seller was great to work with and let me pick and choose the different elements I wanted. I ordered it during a really bad snow storm, though, so the shipping kept getting delayed. Then it was lost in the mail. When they eventually tracked the package down, the seller overnighted it to me because the proposal was planned for the next day.

I had arranged for the proposal message to be programmed onto the marquee at the Byrd Theatre, an iconic landmark in Richmond, with both of our families waiting upstairs in the theater to celebrate the engagement. The ring arrived just 10 minutes before I was going to propose. We ran down to the marquee, I got down on one knee, and I was in such a panic that I ended up opening the ring box toward me instead of her! At our wedding, I wore a bow tie from Etsy and we had another queer seller make a custom felt banner for us.

Double Denim Dude queer pennant
Since launching their shop in 2013, Sam has worked hard to achieve Double Denim Dude’s collegiate look. “It was a turning point when I really understood what my brand was,” Sam explains. “I base every element of my shop off of this one aesthetic, and it shows my audience that my business is cohesive and professional.”

What makes Etsy the right place for your creative business?

I wanted to start a business but was still figuring things out. Etsy made things less intimidating; it has its own audience and draws people in for different reasons. It was easy to dive in as an amateur, and the marketplace grows with you as you develop over the years. I started out selling prints and buttons as an accessible, inexpensive way to create something, and the income from those sales allowed me to make enamel pins and experiment with other types of products. That’s how I’ve been able to expand Double Denim Dude and make the items I want to sell.

How has your work made an impact on your community? Share in the comments below.


Tess Duncan

Tess Duncan is an editor for Etsy's Seller Handbook. She enjoys embroidery, playing music with her friends, and collecting Buck Owens records. She's never met a chocolate chess pie she didn't like.


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