The Elements Survival Coat

Photo courtesy: Brittany Thomasson
survival_coat2It’s been bitterly cold here, 11 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). Rolling blackouts of gas and electric service led the NM state governor to declare a state of emergency. Many of the pueblos are in dire straits. It has never been this cold here in recorded history. Which reminds me of a project I meant to tell you about; it’s called The Empowerment Plan and it was started by Veronika Scott.

I first heard of Veronika on Morning Edition. A junior studying at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, she’s designed a self heating waterproof coat for homeless people that converts to a sleeping bag at night. Although she’s garnered the support of apparel producers like Carhartt (they donated materials and machines to start) she’s poor herself and could use a hand if you’re inclined to help out.

She started the project from her room (cute picture) with -she says- a “vague idea of how to sew” (even with help from her mom); the first prototype took 20 hours (that’s not bad Veronika). Making coats to survive the elements is but one small facet of her plan. She’s also using the project as a training program to impart job skills.

Veronika did quite a bit of research and has some horrible stories about it. Apparently some people drive by shelters in Hummers and and Escalades hoping to incite human cock fights by strategically throwing dollar bills out of the windows. Since when did poverty, hopelessness and misery become cheap entertainment? Is there no sense of common decency? One out of every 47 people in Detroit is homeless. 25% of them are children. The majority are mentally ill having fallen through rents in what passes for a safety net. Oh I’ll get off my soapbox… my brother is ill and usually homeless. We rarely know where he is and it’s hard to help when we do. Paranoia and all; a tragedy many know well.

Veronika’s plan is to make the coat project available across the country. Stop by her Facebook page to keep abreast of developments. Hopefully you can lend a hand too -and counter the perception that designers only care about making fancy clothes for people who can afford to pay the big bucks…

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  1. Marie-Christine says:

    -11o ?!? Wow, houses were invented to deal with those conditions.. makes you long for a nice warm igloo, with big dogs piled up inside.
    Very good idea to use tyvek in these coats, water-resistant, abrasion-resistant, light… I’d think a layer of mylar film, like a survival blanket, would also much improve the heat retention. I’ve had several items, clothing and bedcover, incorporating that and they really helped me warm up much faster.
    Good thing to retrain people in sewing too, hopefully that part will work well. Love the picture of Veronika’s room in action :-)..

  2. Thanks for the info Kathleen! I’ll definitely write about it and help spread the word. I can’t stand the thought of animals being outside in such cold temperatures and the fact that our brothers and sisters are out there is just heartbreaking. I agree with Emily- this would be great on Kickstarter!

  3. Bente says:

    Very interesting project! And what a catching picture; Beauty, suffer, sadness and hope captured in a blink! I will try to see if I can help to connect her with Norway. We are normally very supportive when it comes to design and poverty!
    Was thinking about how homeless keep warm today too! Its freezing even in subtropical Houston today:
    pipe burst yesterday, schools out today and it’s going to SNOW!
    Was also thinking about you Kathleen and that it’s probably veeeery cold there!

  4. Doris W. in TN says:

    What a wonderful concept and project. This young woman is both genius and generous. I wonder if she has a program for the recipients to turn in these blanket/coats when summer arrives, so that they will be cleaned, stored, and available again next winter, for whoever needs one. Reusing a donated resource would be very helpful, but I don’t know if programs are able to do this..

  5. Ruth Ciemnoczolowski [a.k.a. Ruth of Omaha] won the “Threads” Challenge in October at the ASDP national convention with a “Comfort Coat” working the same concept. Photos and details will be published in the upcoming issue.

    It has a substantial hem extension that can make the coat into a sleeping bag or be fastened up for getting around. It has a lot of pockets the right size to slip in sections of newpaper (cheap, available insulation). She deliberately used sturdy, inexpensive fabric and hardware so that interested groups could crank out multiples to donate to homeless shelters.

    The pattern is not yet available.

  6. patsijean says:

    I just donated $20.00. Such a worthy project. My little brother is on the streets; not in Detroit, although we are from Michigan, but probably Mississippi or Florida. I’ve not heard anything about him since Katrina destroyed my sister’s home. He is bright but obviously not mentally well. For some, programs do not work. I hope Veronika’s project is successful.

  7. Kathy Jo says:

    I’ve been meaning to thank you for bringing this to our attention. I will definitely support her efforts, I love when I see someone doing such good things in this world.

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