Homeless can wear, sleep in Joburg designer's 'warm and portable' jacket

06 June 2021 - 00:00
This creation by a fashion designer is a winter jacket that doubles as a sleeping bag. So far 45 have been given to homeless people in Johannesburg.
This creation by a fashion designer is a winter jacket that doubles as a sleeping bag. So far 45 have been given to homeless people in Johannesburg.
Image: Supplied

A Johannesburg fashion designer whose creations have graced runways and advertisements has a new clientele, the homeless.

Carlo Gibson’s latest creation is the “homeless home”, a three-in-one item of sleeping bag, carry bag and jacket.

“Covid-19 made me change the way I was thinking. It made me realise that we are all in this together and I had to change my outlook on life,” he told the Sunday Times.

“I went on the streets, interviewed homeless people and tried, as a designer, to put myself in their shoes and design something for them. A lot of the design came through interactions with the people I will be catering for,” Gibson said.

“They told me they wanted something warm and portable, something they can carry on their shoulders during the day, so in addition they can also use it as a jacket when it’s cold.”

Gibson’s design, done in collaboration with students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), is practical. The sleeping bag, made of canvas fabric, contains pockets to store extra clothing or newspapers, which can be used for insulation.

Gibson distributed about 45 items in a week when Johannesburg recorded its coldest days of the year, with temperatures dropping below zero on some nights.

He is hoping to raise money through crowd-funding to make another 100 items by the month-end. The sleeping bags sell for R389 each and can be bought through Back-A-Buddy or his NGO page, Make-Good, on Facebook and Instagram. He says he does not make a profit from the sales.

We are trying to help where we can and how we can
Carlo Gibson : Designer of the three-in-one garment

“We know we are not solving the problem [of homelessness] but the consequence of the problem is being cold ... So we are trying to help where we can and how we can.”

UJ student Tlotlo Sereisho, who helped with the project, said he and three other visual arts students helped make prototypes. He said it was an honour to work on the project. “The timing couldn’t have been any better as it is extremely cold at the moment.”

The city’s department of social development said the number of homeless people had increased over the past year as Covid-19 led to job losses.

One of the homeless is Arnold Mabunda, who came to Johannesburg from KwaZulu-Natal to look for work. He spent one of the coldest nights in a park in Hillbrow.

“It really isn’t a good place to be but this is life for us,” he said.

During winter, he said, people were kinder to those on the street.

“Maybe they put themselves in our shoes but for me, my luck turns when it is raining or cold,” he said. In such times he will be given shoes, a blanket or a jersey.

The City of Johannesburg said that in the past financial year it distributed blankets, mattresses, hygiene products and personal protection equipment to people living on the streets.

There are three city-run permanent shelters in Johannesburg and a tent village operating as a shelter at the Wembley Stadium in Turffontein. The largest city shelter, in Braamfontein, can accommodate only 250 people because of Covid restrictions. 

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