Background

Two years ago, Veronika Scott, then an industrial design major at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, began working on a class assignment: “Design to fill a need.” She spent months at a community shelter, learning about the needs of the homeless men and women she met. In particular, she was struck by the needs of those who preferred sleeping on the street to sleeping in the shelter, whether for reasons of privacy or pride or drug addiction or mental illness.

For her class project, Scott designed a winter coat that converted into a sleeping bag. The prototype weighed 20 pounds and took 80 hours to make, once she learned how to sew. But Scott, by then invested in the lives of the men and women she’d met, spent all her money refining her design and, in the process, expanded her vision of social change.

In less than two years, Scott has transformed her class project into a non-profit enterprise that stands to make a difference in the lives of thousands. In a previously abandoned warehouse, using donated materials and equipment from General Motors and Carhartt, Scott is now employing homeless women to make self-heated, waterproof, convertible coats for Detroit’s homeless population. Her initiative, now called the Empowerment Plan, has already enabled one of her employees to move out of the shelter and into her own apartment. Others may soon follow.

By the end of this year, working entirely from donations, the women Veronika Scott has hired will have sewn and shipped 800 coats. Scott hopes to make 2,000 coats in 2013.

Veronika Scott is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.