Some Art Students Designed a Jacket That Turns Into a Shelter for Europe's Refugees
They’re thousands of miles from home, braving cold temperatures many have never before experienced, often wearing clothing better suited to a summer day.
With Europe firmly in the grip of Old Man Winter, that’s the situation thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum on the continent are facing. Conditions are so bad, particularly for children, that in January a UNICEF spokesperson said the risk of kids freezing to death “is clearly very, very high.”
That’s where a project launched by a group of graduate students and their mentors at the Royal College of Art in London could help. The team of interior design and textile students is crowdfunding a prototype of the Syrian Refugee Wearable Shelter, a three-in-one garment that easily morphs from a jacket to a sleeping bag to a tent.
RELATED: Refugees Welcome: Now What?
“These three aspects adapt to the conditions a refugee would experience through their two- to five-week journey,” Harriet Harriss, a professor at the college and one of the team’s mentors, told Dezeen. Harriss said the garment’s design is based on feedback from aid workers. “We spoke with Médecins Sans Frontières to get an idea of what a refugee’s journey truly was,” said Harriss.
In its jacket form, one person can wear the garment. Once night falls, it can be transformed into a sleeping bag for two or a tent that holds four. The waterproof exterior of the garment is constructed with Tyvek, a lightweight, inexpensive yet durable material made from high-density polyethylene fiber. The interior is insulated with Mylar—yes, the same shiny polyester film that refugees landing at Lesbos are wrapped in by aid workers and volunteers. As seen in the video below, switching the garment from one incarnation to another is a simple process.
Harriss and her colleague Graeme Brooker assigned the project as part of a design challenge that asked students to come up with shelters for the millions who have been displaced because of war. According to a December report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 60 million people around the globe were displaced in the first half of 2015, which means the garment could come in handy for plenty of folks.
However, some experts have expressed concern about how well the garment could keep a refugee from experiencing hypothermia.
“This garment, while being better than nothing, does not appear suitable for the harsh weather conditions many refugees face. It’s certainly not an adequate shelter for an adult and child,” Nick Harvey, a spokesperson for Doctors of the World, told The Guardian.
Harvey acknowledged the students’ hearts are in the right place. “It’s great that they’re trying to help. But it’s not going to be particularly effective if the temperature is minus-10 and you’re trudging through the Balkans. It looks more suitable for festival-going or possibly even for the U.K. homeless.”
FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis
Indeed, the garment might remind some of Chicago native Chance the Rapper’s successful December campaign to provide warm protective gear for the Windy City’s homeless population. Chance raised $100,000 for 1,000 specially designed coats that doubled as insulated sleeping bags for folks who have to bed down on the city’s streets.
According to the Kickstarter page for the Syrian Refugee Wearable Garment, the “project now seeks funding in order to mass produce the garment, and help refugee aid agencies transport and distribute these wearables—in the places it’s needed most.” It’s unclear how many garments would be produced with that amount, but so far only about $3,000 of the approximately $500,000 needed to cover those costs has been raised.