In the past year, the worst humanitarian emergency in decades has taken centre stage in the British media, and we’ve woken up to the extent of refugee suffering (as embodied in that infamous picture of little Aylan Kurdi). We are now all too aware of the harrowing conditions refugees are facing on boats and in camps like the Calais Jungle, never mind during the long and dangerous journey by foot they face before and after arriving into Europe.
People are finding new and imaginative ways to tackle the problem and help in some way, like the Royal College of Art’s Textile and Interior Design students, who’ve collaborated on developing ‘wearable habitations’ for refugees.
Clothing and interior design are often dismissed as ‘fun’ luxuries far removed from real global altruism, and yet this talented group of students have demonstrated how these spheres can be forces for good. Created in direct response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the resulting coat – which resembles a three-quarter-length puffer jacket and transforms into a sleeping bag or tent – acknowledges the significance of the journey as a desperate struggle for survival. As we know all to well, the weather in Europe can be dismal, and shelter could make all the difference to an unforgiving journey. This coat has the potential to save thousands of lives.
The students used information provided by Médecins Sans Frontières when developing the coat to ensure that it met the needs of refugees. The waterproof pockets on the inside provide a place for passports, important documents, photos and other valuables to be kept safe. The prototype is made from Tyvek, a lightweight and waterproof but very strong fabric often used on aircrafts, and is lined with Mylar; a polyester insulator that is used in emergency blankets, tents, space suits and houses.
The students raised money via Kickstarter and are hoping to deploy the coat as early as this summer via refugee agencies. Author of the project brief, Dr Harriet Harris, says:
‘This project demonstrates the keenness of students to use their design talent to make a difference where it matters’.
I must admit, I’m totally inspired by this practical approach. Whilst this coat is not going to solve the refugee crisis, it encourages us to each think about how we can use our skills to be a part of the solution.
Over a million people arrived into Europe last year and despite the new EU deal that’s sending people back to Turkey, as the war rages on in Syria, the enormous flow of humanity across borders shows no signs of stopping. If there was ever a time to be proactive, it’s now.
Photo source: Royal College of Art