It all started when a college student designed a single coat.
Veronika Scott founded the Empowerment Plan three years ago when she was a 20-year-old student at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. She was assigned a project to "design to fill a need," and she immediately reached out to the city’s homeless population: 20,000 people who have to endure the city’s brutally cold winters without roofs over their heads.
Scott theorized that a winter coat could double as a sleeping bag. Initially, the project was just about the design of the coat. But after her semester ended, so did the original idea, which evolved into something much larger: an entire system that trains homeless women to become seamstresses, creating the coats that warm others, all while learning a valuable trade to break the cycle of homelessness.
"The focus is on the humanitarian system to create jobs for those that desire them and coats for those that need them at no cost," Scott wrote on her blog around the time of the coat’s release. "The goal is to empower, employ, educate, and instill pride. The importance is not with the product but with the people."
As you can see from the video, the coat’s reach extends beyond Detroit, and the ultimate impact has more to do with altering lives than with simply keeping people warm. The women employed by the Empowerment Plan can take solace in knowing they’re making something of great significance for those on the street while working to improve their own lives (and the lives of their families).
Three years after its founding (and two years after Scott’s graduation from college), the Empowerment Plan employs nine seamstresses and has a full staff of 13 people. In 2013, the organization will produce 4,000 coats. So far, the work has been made possible with donations from Carhartt, The Sara Blakley Foundation, The Fisher Family Trust, The Women’s Foundation, Bedrock Manufacturing and Shinola, and General Motors.
Moving forward, Scott and her team are exploring the idea of a buy-one-give-one model—the same coat that’s given to those on the street would be an elegant, durable asset to any camper, hiker, or outdoor sports enthusiast. The organization sees the shift as a way to sustainably increase production, and potentially have a hand in reshaping Detroit’s garment industry.
In the end, though, it all comes down to the women they work with.
"The homeless women I hire are powerful, driven," writes Scott, "and I am privileged to be a part of their lives."
You can make a donation to the Empowerment Plan via Crowdrise.