The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly cruel to the homeless. With much higher rates of underlying health problems, a lack of access to health care, and no way to self-quarantine, the homeless were much more susceptible to the coronavirus than other populations.
Long before the pandemic hit the world by surprise, Designer Bas Timmer launched Sheltersuit, a design-driven NGO, in his native Netherlands after he witnessed the effects of homelessness firsthand. “I felt the obligation to do something when the father of my two friends who was homeless at the time died due to hypothermia on the streets,” he explained during an interview. What is a Sheltersuit exactly? Well, a Sheltersuit is a warm wind- and waterproof jacket made from high-quality, breathable tent-fabric made from deadstock materials, factory scraps, and upcycled sleeping bags patch-worked together (making each Sheltersuit unique) with a designer’s eye. Its large hood shields the wearer’s face from rain and streetlights and features an integrated scarf and the optional detachable sleeping bag provides immediate shelter. The suits are mainly made by people with a distance to the labour market, most of whom are asylum seekers with a residence permit. Through Sheltersuit they integrate into society.
Since founding the company in 2014, and building a social factory in Enschede, the Netherlands, Timmer and his team have made and distributed more than 15.000 Sheltersuits all across the world. In addition to the location in Enschede, Sheltersuit now also has branches in New York (USA) and South Africa.
A Sheltersuit costs about $300 to make and Timmer has funded their production and distribution over the years through donations. In 2017, Bas Timmer and his Sheltersuits won the Dutch Design Awards Public Award and were nominated in the Product category.
But Timmer did not stay with this ‘donation’ based businessmodel. Recently he started to work together with famous brands, in order to grow faster and to be able to help more people. For it’s Autumn-Winter 2021 show, the international fashion house Chloé launched a collab with Sheltersuit. New art director Gabriela Hearst believes in design with a purpose, sustainability and social impact in an effort to take on a much larger global issue. For the collection with Chloé, Bas worked with the leftover fabrics from earlier collections of the fashion label. The Autumn-Winter 21 show took place in the abandoned streets of Saint Germain in Paris during the lock downs. For every bag sold by Chloé, two Sheltersuits are donated to homeless people.
By expanding the Sheltersuit network and their partnership base, they will be able to provide more people with jobs, personal development and increase production capacity, all while keeping product waste to a minimum.
Copyright featured video by DESIGN INDABA