I was approached recently by Jurrie Barkel and Bas Timmer from Dutch start-up Sheltersuit to act as a mentor for their successful WEAR Sustain (Horizon2020) funded project.
The Sheltersuit Foundation is a Purpose driven business based in Eschende in the far east of Holland. Their mission is to help the homeless and refugee community by producing an upcycled garment of clothing that will provider warmth in some of the most challenging environments around the world. Their WEAR Sustain project aims to enable their existing product with Smart Technology to improve the benefits to its users.
The Sheltersuit is part jacket, part sleeping bag and is constructed from materials donated by large global firms in and around the Sheltersuit HQ in Eschende, such as TenCate Outdoor Fabrics, Coats Opti and 3M, who provide high quality waste fabric to the project. Workers from across the world, many from refugee hotspots like Syria, skilfully stitch, sew and bond the garments into robust and long lasting Sheltersuits, which are then shipped around the world at a rate of around 100 per week.
The operation is scaling quickly and Bas Timmer and his team are spread thin, but highly motivated and driven by the huge demand for this product. Jurrie Barkel, who volunteers his time two days a week on the project explaines: “If we had the capacity now, we could ship 100 times the number of suits we can currently make per week. The world is in a bad way and migration and homelessness are at an all time high. We have developed a reliable and very high quality product and it really does help to solve one of the most serious humanitarian problems of our times”.
I am delighted to be able to bring my 10 years experience in the Wearables space to the table. The WEAR funding is being targeted at upgrading the suit to have some basic energy harvesting and communications technology embedded, allowing the users to communicate and charge their vital electronic, lifeline technology in environments where temperatures can reach -20 degrees.
Jurrie is running the WEAR project for the Sheltersuit Foundation and has assembled a highly dedicated team. Drawing from talent in the “Dream Team” hub at local Twente University, they span engineering, prototyping, fabrics and commercialisation skillsets. My role has been to add a high level perspective to the work, where ensuring that the grant is targeted to delivering outcomes in a tight time frame is essential. This involved managing the scope and boundaries of the work and considering the manufacturing perspective. It is always enticing to consider a wide and ambitious scope, but hopefully we have reached a balance, where the project will be both successful from a technology point of view and also explorative of the possibilities for later work. By the end of the project we will be able to put prototype suits in the hands of real users in the refugee camps in Syria and ask vital questions about how it fits the needs that have been identified previously, through extensive work by the team on the ground.
By Dr Jacob Skinner, Thrive Wearables Founder and Managing Director