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Friday
Apr052013

influencers: veronika scott at work, The Empowerment Plan

A coat that transforms into a sleeping bag? How did you come up with that idea?
This started as a class project at the College for Creative Studies here in Detroit. The assignment was to design a product that filled a social need, and the biggest need I saw here in the city was homelessness.

I started my research at a local shelter, the Neighborhood Service Organization, but was received with a less than welcoming sentiment on the first day—because they didn’t want a savior, they wanted to be treated like people.

So I went three days a week for five months.
I got to know them, started to gain their trust
after I proved that I was not going anywhere,
and was just there to listen to them. I spent
a lot of time walking around the shelter with
them, and I discovered that just 20’ away from the shelter was a playground that someone
had fashioned into a shelter of their own. I wanted to know why someone would risk their livelihood and well-being to provide for themselves what someone else was willing to provide to them.

The answer was pride and needing to have a sense of independence. The coat was to give people mobility, and having pride in having something new, not previously worn and used by someone else.

“The sleeping bag part came in because the shelters in Detroit are filled beyond capacity and tens of thousands of people are still out on the streets each night. This was meant to offer comfort and pride to those people.”
Veronika Scott, The Empowerment Plan Founder and CEO

The Empowerment Plan production space feels warm and homey—what do you attribute that to?
This is really due to the man who owns this building and the eclectic group of individuals who reside there. Phillip Cooley, the owner of a local Detroit restaurant and advocate for the city, garnered interest of a diverse group of people who volunteered their time for construction and restoration of the building.

This didn’t happen overnight—over nine months and thousands of volunteer hours were spent getting the building to where it is now. The homey feeling comes from the fact that the community helped to build and restore the space.

How did you empower yourself at such a young age to tackle Detroit’s homeless issue?
It’s not so much that I empowered myself but that I was empowered by others. Particularly my grandparents, who supported me through the entire design research process and connected me with any and all friends and family members who were able to aid me in furthering the projects—one of which helped me construct my first business plan.

I couldn’t have succeeded without the support of so many people—and having their input afforded me the freedom to fail, because I had so many people to help me and nothing to really lose. From the larger corporations like GM and Carhartt to my family and friends, everyone had something to risk, and I am so thankful for their support.

What is your hope for The Empowerment Plan in the future?
The most important thing for us is becoming a sustainable entity. That means financial security, as well as being able to support Detroit in a larger way.

We currently give out coats throughout the US—which are sponsored by individuals, corporations or non-profits through our website. As we grow, we plan to launch a for-profit business that will feature a buy-one/get-one model—where people can buy a coat for themselves and have one given out on the streets in a location of their choosing.

We are also working on developing a disaster relief arm and hope to become a model for sustainable and humane garment manufacturing in the US.

In support of The Empowerment Plan, CB2 has donated $5000.
To see how Veronika makes a small Detroit space home, go here.