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Innovation By Design

This Coat Doubles As A Shelter For Syrian Refugees

RCA students have developed an affordable, all-in-one coat, tent, and sleeping bag to help deal with Syria's humanitarian crisis.

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The European Union has a refugee crisis on its hands. As upwards of half a million displaced Syrians flee to Europe to escape the horrors of war, they often find themselves sleeping in the open, with neither clothing nor shelter to shield them from the elements.

Can students help? In consultation with Médecins Sans Frontières, a group of graduates from the Royal College of Art in London has designed a coat for refugees that can transform into a sleeping bag or tent, as needed.

Called the Syrian Refugee Wearable Shelter, the coat is made out of Tyvek, the same material used on construction sites to protect workers from the elements. The inner lining of the coat, meanwhile, is mylar, a polyester-film that is commonly used as an insulating material, especially in sock and glove liners. These materials make the Syrian Refugee Wearable Shelter affordable enough to mass produce and distribute freely to refugees, the students say.

Folded as a coat, the Wearable Shelter operates like a parka, complete with a hood and interior pockets which can store papers, passports, money, and other documents. Unzip the coat, and it can be used as either a sleeping bag, or a tent through the use of accompanying kite rods. As a sleeping bag, the Wearable Shelter is big enough for a parent and his or her child to cuddle up in; as a tent, it's roomy enough to sleep four.

According to Harriet Harriss, a senior tutor in interior design and architecture at RCA who oversaw the project, the Wearable Shelter was designed to have a "likable aesthetic." "It's not a fashion garment by any stretch of the imagination, but why should we expect refugees to wear garments that don't have even a basic intrinsic appeal?" she says. "To design something without some sense of 'designerly' thoughtfulness would only exacerbate the dehumanizing conditions they are already enduring. To design well—for the wearable to have character—is to show the refugees that we care."

Right now, Harriss and the rest of her team are working on getting the first 1,000 wearable shelters to interested charities in time for summer. They have also taking donations from a rather bare-bones Kickstarter, where they are trying to raise over $400,000 to get shelters in the hands of every refugee who needs one.

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