Design + Empowerment: The Empowerment Plan

Tuesday, September 4, 2012










Oh my inner social worker and design enthusiast have shown up to the same party for once. I love design and while I mostly gravitate to pretty designs, I love that it doesn't always have to be pretty. Design isn't all about typography or area rugs or super cute jeans made in china. Design is also functional, design can save lives and improve lives, like a pace maker or an air bag. 

I was a social worker before I became a designer. I worked at a Domestic Violence shelter, first as an advocate and then director. Let me tell you it's hard work. There are a lot of problems in the world and you get to come face to face with so many of them - homelessness being a big one. And I learned a little bit about homelessness while I was there - it's a complicated issue. Basically once you become homeless, maybe because you left your abusive partner or got evicted because you couldn't pay your rent, because you lost your job; whatever the reason, it's really hard to become unhomeless. For one there's just the logistics: your beaten down, you actually find yourself HOMELESS; you aren't going to be on top of your game, you are scared, cold, you don't have a phone, a shower, a bed, an address, a closet to store your interview clothes. Homeless shelters are overcrowded and underfunded, so for most, that's not even an option. Yeah, you put all these together and it makes you not the most desirable employee or tenant and it's certainly going to affect your self-esteem. Then there's the mental health and addiction and those two are tight, actually those three: mental health, addiction and homelessness are BFF's forever and ever and ever. It not going to change until we change our perceptions of mental health, drug addiction and homelessness.

One of those perceptions is that homelessness is a choice. It's a good way to think because then we don't have to feel responsible. Some people do actually choose to be homeless but not the majority and 99.9% of those people probably choose to be homeless for reasons beyond, "I love living on the streets!" See above: there are issues. Some people may choose to remain homeless for many reasons too. Those reasons may not make sense to most people, but if you really think about it, well, it can make a whole lot of sense - I imagine it can feel like trying to swim across the ocean. On the other hand not everybody doesn't care about the homeless population or feel that isn't their responsibility either. Some people actually see the homeless as humans in need of basic necessities no matter if they are drunk, talk loudly to themselves, have a dog or a shopping cart - it doesn't matter why they are or how they got there (though in order to change it does matter, a lot). Some people at the end of the day feel for those that are struggling to survive. 

One of those people is Veronika Scott a design student who had upcoming project while attending College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and instead of coming up with something all sleek and design-y, she came up with something that a group of people who don't get much really do need. She's a design hero. She's a good person. She is going on to make a difference. She is making a difference. We should all totally take a page from her book.

Her design is a coat that transforms to a sleeping bag. Yes, it's a little wacky looking but if it's 10 degrees outside and you are sleeping in a vestibule you probably don't care. Additionally it is to be made at low cost so that it can be given to those in need. (But if you look at the photo of the black jacket it looks pretty nice!) Veronika is going to continue to make these coats for the homeless, under her new humanitarian project, The Empowerment Plan, which will be also be made by homeless, in Detroit. The goal is to help those she's already helping gain skills that they can take with them, make a paycheck and become more empowered. If design were an olympic sport and I was a judge I'd be giving her a perfect score. Additionally, it sounds, from one of the articles I read,  as though a line of coats may be produced to be sold to the greater masses and when you purchase one, you will also receive another coat with your purchase to be donated to any charity anywhere in the world that your choose. When I first saw this design, I thought it was a cool piece of survival or camping gear. But then I realized it is REAL survival gear, for those that may just need to survive through a cold winter night. Love. Love. Love. 

I am totally inspired. How about you?

Want to learn more? Of course you do!! You can read here and here and watch here.


10 comments:

  1. These images are very powerful. I also worked in the Social Services field and it is not easy.

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    1. it's tough work for sure. never leaves you even after you leave the field. i love the photo of the women sewing. it's my favorite!

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  2. Christine... you have left me speechless with these photographs... WOW! Coretta is right... they are very powerful! Grace, peace and blessings, Carla.

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    1. i agree these photos really speak to so much. they are really wonderful.

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  3. WOW - fantastic idea. That first image is amazing. We need forward thinkers like this in the world!
    Leigh
    www.oneandoneequalstwinfun.com

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    1. i agree! i am so inspired by her and she's only 24! i think!!

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  4. Wow, I am inspired. That's incredible. The black and red one is actually pretty stylish. Love the pics too.

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    1. yes! i am wondering if it's true that they may be made for retail if that will be the style. it's a great idea, of course the story behind it makes it so much better!

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  5. What an amazing young woman, who is already making a HUGE difference in the world. This is probably going to save and transform lives.

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  6. What a great idea! I always want to do more for those who are not fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads, but sometimes it just seems too daunting a task. What a wonderful contribution!

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