The “wearable habitat”: a refugee coat that turns into a tent

refugee shelterInterior Design & Textiles students from London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) have designed a piece of clothing with three distinct uses: it is a weather-proof coat, a sleeping bag, and a tent. Their prototype aims to meet the immediate needs of migrating people, with pockets specially designed to store passports, personal documents, and phones.

Professors Harriet Harris and Graeme Brooker kicked off the Wearable Habitation project after consultation with Médecins Sans Frontières to understand what refugees experienced on the two to five week journey from Syria to Greece.Their design brief stated that garment had to be able to morph into a shelter for two or more people, and be cost-effective to make.

refugee shelterThe challenge began with students working on a one-week ‘hackathon’, with teams throwing out creative ideas and discarding the weakest.  They then merged three of the strongest design proposals into this single solution which is now in a Chinese factory for prototyping.

The winning design is made from Tyvek, a synthetic non-woven material typical used to weatherproof buildings. A layer of Mylar provides added insulation, and the loose, lightweight garment looks like a baggy coat. Black zippers substitute for some of its seams, allowing the coat to be completely opened and re-positioned as a sleep sack. Insert lightweight rods through other seams to transform the sleeping bag into a tent. Each garment will be printed with instructions for all these assemblies using easy-to-understand pictures.

refugee shelterThe project now seeks funding to begin mass production and to help aid agencies transport and distribute these wearables to where they are most needed. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the first batch of coats aims to raise $435,000 by the end of this month; as of this posting, they’ve raised nearly $14,000. (Click here to help.)

“Once we have the prototypes back from the factory in China we will engage with refugees and conduct site visits, plus rigorous testing to further improve the garment,” Harris told Dezeen, “The completed testing and prototyping of this version will inform designs for a winter version and a child version.”

refugee shelter“Good design isn’t about technologies and devices – it has a social heart and a role to play in meeting the needs of people facing impossible challenges,” added Harris,”Whilst our wearable won’t solve the problem it addresses a small part of it.”

Images by Joshua Tarn

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