Veronika Scott was a fashion student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit when her teacher, Stephen Schock, challenged her class to create a product that filled a need, rather than satisfying or creating a fad. Veronika’s design was a coat for homeless people that could transform into a sleeping bag, since in her city, she says, “you are constantly faced with the homeless epidemic.”
Not only did her design win a 2011 International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America, it’s now become the core of Veronika’s nonprofit organization, The Empowerment Plan, which hires people from homeless shelters and transition homes to help her make the coats.
Veronika originally designed the coats seeking input from people at a homeless shelter. After receiving feedback from people who used the prototype over a Detroit winter, she refined the design to create her final version which, in addition to being a waterproof and windproof coat and sleeping bag, also transforms into an over-the-shoulder bag with storage in the arm sockets.
By year’s end, Veronika and her employees at The Empowerment Plan hope to make 600 coats a month to be distributed free of charge to people living on the streets. That’s twice as many as they currently make but the 23-year-old social entrepreneur knows her employees are up to the challenge.
“Everybody told me that my business was going to fail — not because of who I was giving my product to but because of who I was hiring,” Veronika shared. “They said that these homeless women will never make more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — you cannot rely on them for anything. And I know my ladies enjoy proving everybody wrong.”
Veronika is also planning to open a sister, for-profit company to sell the coats: after presenting it at Aspen Fashion Week a year ago, people have been asking to buy them as a fashion item. She hopes that the for-profit company (which will also hire employees from shelters and transition homes) will help support their charitable work.
Veronika would also like to show other clothing producers that local manufacturing is possible; as she states, “I think we’re going to show a lot of people: you think it’s outdated to do manufacturing in your neighborhood, but I think it’s something that we have to do in the future, where it’s sustainable, where you invest in people, where they’re not interchangeable parts.”
You can read more about Veronika’s organization on PBS athttp://tinyurl.com/pyk8xmc
or watch a short video about her work athttp://tinyurl.com/qbe5oeq
To learn more about The Empowerment Plan or how you can support their work, visit http://www.empowermentplan.org/