Bas Timmer, inventor of the Sheltersuit, has a bold ambition to produce 10,000 of the coats-with-sleeping-bag for the roofless. In the factory in Enschede 72 people are well underway to reach this goal, Timmer told last week in Amsterdam.

‘It’s weird that we have a gigantic textile industry and every day millions of garments disappear into the incinerator, but we cannot even keep people warm. The fact that we cannot protect human lives is a world upside down,’ says fashion designer Bas Timmer. His life took a decisive turn after the homeless father of a friend died on the street of hypothermia. 

A short-term solution for a big problem

Timmer started his own fashion label in 2012 after he finished his studies in Fashion Design and Fine Art at ArtEZ University of the Arts. The collections present a different take on everyday t-shirts and sweaters, derived from a cultural approach towards fashion design. Timmer made name with his signature scarf sweaters in striking colours and more recently turned to round-neck sweaters enhanced by vests and jackets.

In 2014, reacting on the tragic death of his friends’ father, Timmer developed the Sheltersuit, designed as ‘a short-term solution for a big problem’. The suit is a specially designed, lightweight wind and waterproof coat, onto which a sleeping-bag can be zipped. The sleeping-bag can also be transformed into a larger, warm blanket. Funded by companies and private supporters the suits are donated for free to the homeless.

In the past four years more than 2,500 Sheltersuits have been distributed, including 1,100 suits specially designed for refugee children staying on the Greek island of Lesbos. Those children’s suits came in a pattern design by fashion designer Bas Koster, and were brought to lesbos together with Movement on the Ground and WakaWaka Foundation.

Sheltersuits for all

In Paradiso in Amsterdam Timmer was interviewed on the occasion of the presentation of The Dots #15, the magazine that presents all Dutch participants of Design Week Milan. He elaborated on the reception of the suits by Syrian refugees who try to survive on the Greek island, populating with 6,000 people a camp with accommodation for 1,500. ‘Our aim is to return there next winter with Sheltersuits for all refugees, not only the children,’ Timmer told.

He also told about the 72 people now working at the factory set up in Timmer’s home town Enschede. Timmer: ‘We work with refugees, homeless and volunteers, 19 of whom we have been able already to offer a fair salary. Working in our workshop offers immigrants opportunities to integrate faster and all to master skills that help them develop on a personal and professional level.’ 

It means that the Sheltersuit has developed into a serious social enterprise, generating impressive impact on many levels. Meanwhile, a spin-off enterprise, Sheltersuit Factory, provides jobs for clothing professionals with a distance to the job market.