Industrial designer Shaul Cohen has long been creating whimsical products in his 3D-design studio — including pita “bandaids” for the tears that develop in overstuffed falafel sandwiches, and an inflatable beret for soldiers to use as a pillow on long bus rides.
Soon after October 7, when Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, killing more than 1,200 and abducting 253 hostages to Gaza, Cohen began 3D-printing thousands of small yellow ribbon pins, intended to be a symbol of identification with those held in captivity.
It began when he saw a yellow ribbon tied to his car’s sideview mirror, and then watched yellow ribbons proliferate around Tel Aviv, to voice solidarity with those held hostage. Yellow ribbons have long been a global symbol of support for troops, an expression of hope for their safe return home.
Cohen 3D-printed a miniature version of the ribbon and superglued it to a pin he had sitting in the studio. His colleagues in the studio wanted their own, so they printed a few more and then posted pictures on Instagram, which led other friends and followers to ask for their own yellow ribbon pins.
“I had 300 pins sitting in my studio, and they were just sitting there, so I said, “Okay, I’ll print what I have and glue them and people can come to the studio and take them,'” said Cohen.
Within a couple of days, all 300 ribbon pins had been printed, glued and handed out. Cohen was getting a wave of messages on his Instagram account asking him if he was making any more pins.
He began looking around the country for someone who could sell him the simple push-pins that he was gluing to the 3D-printed yellow ribbons, as the ones he had were purchased on the Chinese website Aliexpress years earlier.
“I went all around south Tel Aviv and couldn’t find anything,” said Cohen.
Finally, a contact through social media sent him to an importer who would only sell Cohen a minimum of 5,000 pins, which seemed like an outrageous number to Cohen.
“I told him, ‘I won’t be able to use all of those,'” said Cohen.
Regardless, they settled on a price and Cohen brought the 5,000 pins home, setting up all of his five 3D printers to work nonstop.
After one week, the entire batch of 5,000 pins was gone.
“I began to understand that there’s a wave of requests here that I couldn’t fulfill,” said Cohen. “People were willing to pay, too.”
He returned to the importer weekly to buy 5,000 pins, then another 5,000 and then 10,000. At this point, nearly four months since October 7, Cohen and his team have made more than 60,000 of the yellow ribbon pins.
It takes six hours to print each batch of 100 pins, and now Cohen also prints at another 3D-printing shop in Tel Aviv, which has 30 printers.
They’re worn by many television anchors, purchased by high-tech firms and organizations, and visible on the lapels and t-shirts of hostages’ family members and supporters at rallies and protests.
If someone just wants one or two pins, Cohen gifts them, and has found a source of funding from corporations and companies that buy them in bulk and are helping fund the project.
He’s also shared his design with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which set up their own printing workshop in order to pass out the ribbon pins to their supporters.
“It worked well until they finished all their pins and the importer didn’t have any more pins for a few days,” said Cohen.
Cohen streamlined his own process at the studio, with someone running the pin-printing project, and a team of people who print, glue and take orders, along with additional ribbons being printed at the other Tel Aviv 3D factory.
He helps out, but needs to keep running the profitable side of his business, which is mostly photographing people’s childhood homes and apartment buildings and then 3D-printing miniature versions of them for gifts.
Cohen also made contact with a local metal workshop that makes stronger pins and produces the pins in Israel, a bonus at this point, when supporting blue-and-white production feels better.
There was a recent point in the process, when the time the hostages had been in captivity reached 100 days, when Cohen said it felt wrong for him to be handling merchandise tied to the hostages.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing,’ and wanted to stop,” he said.
He then saw ribbon pins for the hostages that had been imported from China and that didn’t sit right either.
“I didn’t want to let that happen, better that they should be made here, by us, for us,” said Cohen.
He still has a hard time keeping up with demand, but urges anyone who needs a ribbon pin to message him on Instagram. It may take a few days for him to respond, but he will, and they’ll have their ribbon pins in hand within a few days.
Until all the hostages come home.