Shortly after graduating in 2012, Dutch fashion designer Bas Timmer heard some distressing news. While he had been busy sketching designs for warm weather clothing for his new brand, a friend's father, who was homeless, had died of hypothermia just meters away from his studio. The young innovator set aside his personal ambitions and instead used his design skills to create Sheltersuit — a waterproof, insulated jacket that doubles as a sleeping bag to protect the world's homeless and refugees, living in makeshift camps, against extreme weather.
Made from discarded sleeping bags, tents, and scrap fabric, the clothing is both functional and environmentally-friendly. To transform the coat into a sleeping bag, the wearer simply zips on a second piece to the bottom. The suit's large hood helps shield against bright street lights at night, while a built-in scarf adds warmth and protection. When not in use, the "portable shelter" can be tucked away in the accompanying backpack.
The designer had initially intended to create a limited number of Sheltersuits and then go back to nurturing his fledgling clothing brand. “I thought, okay, I’m going to make 100,” he says. However, demand for the ingenious product, which was an instant hit, has been incessant. Over the past four years, Timmer and his team, which includes both volunteers and paid refugee employees, have distributed 6,000 Sheltersuits to the homeless in the Netherlands and across Europe, and to asylum seekers in Sarajevo and Greece.
To help pay for the manufacturing cost, Timmer and his partner, Alexander De Groot, have set up the Sheltersuit Foundation, which accepts donations from both corporations and individuals. Since March 2019, the team has also been using its factory to create clothing, bags, and other items for paying clients.
Earlier this year, after observing a large number of homeless in Austin, Texas, the young designer embarked on designing the Shelterbag — a lightweight, ventilated jacket and sleeping bag that is more suited to the city's warmer temperature. The thinner material allows the Shelterbag to be rolled like a yoga mat, eliminating the need for a backpack. Though only 100 will be made initially, Timmer hopes to expand production for both suits once he can garner more funding. “I want to help hundreds of thousands of people, eventually, not 6,000 a year,” he says.
Though Timmer's efforts are laudable, the waterproof clothing is not the solution to this serious social issue, which is largely the result of income loss and the skyrocketing real estate prices in US cities like San Francisco and New York. Hopefully, governments, corporations, and individuals will come together to find a way to help the people that are down on their luck.
Resources: Sheltersuit.com. Fastcompany.com