This Hoodie Helps the Homeless Go Incognito on the Streets

The creators of the Visor set out to make the ultimate urban sweatshirt, but an unexpected encounter led them to reconsider its purpose.

(Photo courtesy The Visor/Kickstarter)

Jun 23, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Ninja sleeves, an earphone cord hole, premium microfiber construction, and face-protecting ability—Albuquerque-based hoodie aficionado Anders Hsi figured he had designed the ultimate urban sweatshirt, the Visor: Stealth Hoodie. The garment zips all the way up and completely covers a wearer’s face with breathable, see-through mesh. Then Hsi stumbled on another use for it: helping the homeless gain some privacy.

Indeed, on the hoodie’s fully funded Kickstarter page, Hsi wrote that he originally thought the hi-tech hoodie would be “indispensable on those inhospitable windy, dusty, icy, or nuclear fallout/zombie invasion days.” An encounter with a homeless guy caused him to see the clothing item a bit differently.

A homeless man named Josh saw Hsi shooting a promotional video for the hoodie and asked about the design. Josh was interested in it, wrote Hsi, because the hood zips all the way up and conceals the person’s face. “Living outdoors, in public, and often viewed as dangerous, this feature would give him protection from exposure, personal privacy, and insulation from a society where he is clearly an outsider,” wrote Hsi.

Hsi handed over the prototype, and, wrote Hsi, he and the Stealth Hoodie team “discovered that by focusing on the experience and needs of people who are homeless, we could design the ultimate urban tech wear.” They began beta testing the hoodie with other homeless people and giving them the prototypes.

While that might sound a little like using homeless people as guinea pigs (the company is testing the product on homeless people so that the rest of us can buy it), Hsi’s experience raises an important issue. Although America’s 610,000 homeless individuals are so invisible that we’d walk by our own mother if she were sleeping on the street, they also deserve privacy.

Historically, for the homeless, private time has been hard to come by. Although a federal appeals court just struck down a 31-year-old ban on sleeping in cars in Los Angeles, the rights and privacy of folks who don’t have a permanent home surely need more attention.

“Living outside, constantly in public, always on the move, and often discriminated against, no one experiences more profoundly the challenges of urban life we all face than people who are homeless,” wrote Hsi.