For many, the reaction upon seeing a homeless person is to let the eyes slide past and slip by. One Detroit designer chose instead to look, think and ultimately design a game-changing garment. It all started in industrial design professor Stephen Schock’s new design activism class at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Detroit has over 20,000 homeless people living on the streets, prompting Schock to challenge his students to do something about the issue.
This New York Times article entitled Altering Clothes, and Lives, With Design explains that The Empowerment Plan is a humanitarian project based in the city of Detroit that centers around a coat that is self-heated, waterproof, and transforms into a sleeping bag at night.
The coats are made by homeless women who have been paid to learn and to produce the coats for those living on the streets. The focus is on the system to create jobs for those that desire them and coats for those that need them at no cost. The importance is not with the product but with the people…
One of his students, Veronika Scott, a native of Detroit and then a junior, quickly focused on the homeless population and began researching her project at the Neighborhood Service Organization, a community development center. “I noticed that there were people sleeping outside of shelters even when they could have been inside,” she said, adding that she quickly learned that many actually prefer the street because of pride, privacy issues or an array of mental health problems.
“There are many reasons why people are homeless, but I could see one thing all of them needed: warmth,” she said.
Ms. Scott, now 22, soon came up with the idea to design a coat that could double as a sleeping bag.
“I am now known as the ‘Crazy Coat Lady,’ ” said Ms. Scott, who began her research by asking a group of 30 homeless men at the shelter for advice on designing it. “At first they were angry because I turned off their TV, but then they started talking to me,” she said.