By Chere Di Boscio
Veronika Scott is one woman who carries the Christmas spirit year round. The businesswoman and designer has been widely lauded over the past few years for her nonprofit enterprise, the Empowerment Plan, which produces combination coats/sleeping bags for homeless people in 29 American states and 3 Canadian provinces. But the most generous part of the Empowerment Plan isn’t so much the coats themselves, but how they’re made.
After Scott was asked to create something ‘particularly useful’ in a design class, she came up with a coat that can be transformed into a sleeping bag. The EMPWR coat is a water-resistant and self-heating jacket, which can transform into a sleeping bag, or be worn as an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. Apart from being a socially conscious garment, the coat is eco-friendly, too: it’s constructed of upcycled automotive insulation, fabric from Carhartt, and other materials provided by corporate donors.
She presented a few of them to a homeless shelter and was rather taken aback when one of the residents started shouting at her, saying what she needed was an actual job, not a coat. Scott realised that as innovative as her coat may be, it was only a ‘Bandaid solution’ to a wider problem, and she decided to do something about it: she trained and hired the very people the coats were designed for.
The daughter of addicts herself, Scott says she understand the need for the homeless to retain a sense of pride and self-worth; exactly what she hopes to provide by employing people who need it the most. There are a staggering 3.5 million homeless people in the U.S, shocking for a developed country but unfortunately, America doesn’t have the social welfare infrastructure found in most of Europe. The Empowerment Plan thus works by finding private donors to sponsor $100 for a coat, which covers the cost of labour, materials, and overhead expenses. The company counts 20 previously homeless people on its staff, and they will be producing and distributing 6,500 coats across the United States and Canada next year.
The Empowerment Plan can produce 1,000 coats on a budget of $100,000. Studies by the company show that for each 1,000 coats distributed, 14 lives are saved, and healthcare costs are reduced by $58,800 annually as fewer people will visit the emergency room for hypothermia. Additionally, they estimate that the coats reduce homeless mortality: approximately 7% of those sleeping rough die from hypothermia each year, but the Empowerment Plan reduces this statistic by over 20%.
Scott’s project proves beyond a doubt that compassion and innovation aren’t just nice ideas; they’re perfectly applicable to the fashion industry, and can even save lives.
For more information or to sponsor a coat, please click here.