Written by Bonnie Alter
You could call these coats “transformer clothing” because they do change from a coat into a sleeping bag. But you could also call them humanitarian and inspirational because they save homeless people from freezing in the winter.
The coats were created by a student industrial designer from Detroit.
The Element S (Survival) Coat is self-heated and waterproof and transforms into a sleeping bag at night. It took the designer a long time to test out the possibilities–the first one weighed twenty pounds and was terrible looking. After taking advice from homeless advisors at a local shelter the latest version is made of water and wind and air-resistant polyethylene on the outer layer, which acts as a barrier.
The inner layer is made of Thinsulate and Steelcase fabric to store body heat. It also turns into an over-the-shoulder bag with the arm sockets acting as storage. The design is so clever that it won an International Design prize.
To date 275 coats have been made and one hundred of them have been given to homeless people in Detroit. Two were donated to Occupy Wall Street supporters in New York this past winter.
As explained in the New York Times, it has been quite a journey for Veronika Scott, the designer. It all started with a Detroit professor who had a design activism class where students were given the instruction to “Design to fill a need” and Veronika Scott did just that. Let’s hope she got an A+ on the course.
She has now started up a small non-profit business, Empowerment Plan, which provides homeless women with employment opportunities. In preparation, she has travelled to social entrepreneur fairs, met manufacturers, renovated a space in Detroit on the cheap.
She has had help from her friends. Carhartt is a local company which specialises in work wear and they have donated industrial sewing machines, materials and training guidance. In addition, a local industrial fabric company, is helping her with manufacturing so she can make her coats more quickly
As for the women who are working at the Empowerment Plan, they have been taught how to sew them and are paid for their work. So not only does the coat help the homeless, its creation is providing long-term education and opportunities as well. If you are inspired, you can donate to the project.
This post was originally published by TreeHugger.
Photo from Ed Yourdon via flickr