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Meet the Dutch Clothing Brand Making Coats to Save the Lives of Unhoused People

Designer Bas Timmer is upcycling luxury fabrics from the likes of Chloé and LVMH for a good cause.

A model wearing a look from Sheltersuit's fall collection. Sheltersuit/Tony Docekal

“To me, it’s important that if you do good, you do good from the bottom-up,” says Bas Timmer, who has done just that with his nonprofit foundation Sheltersuit, which sources deadstock textiles and remnants from fashion’s cutting room floors and uses them to create protective clothing for the homeless. “Making a compromise on buying materials that do harm to nature or doing unfair production in other countries [is counterproductive]. In the end, even if you want to do good and help the homeless people, I don’t like to do it at a cost somewhere else.”

Sheltersuit, however, hadn’t always been the plan for Timmer. It wasn’t until a close family friend passed away from hypothermia while being homeless that Timmer realized his background in fashion design could provide a vital service. “What I felt was kind of uncomfortable,” he says, “because I was making warm clothes and the person died on the street because he didn’t have warm clothes, so it was just a very big conflict to me.” Timmer created the first Sheltersuit about eight years ago for a homeless man in his Dutch hometown “and from one, we evolved to thousands.”

Sheltersuit designer Bas Timmer; a look from Sheltersuit's fall collection.

Designer Bas Timmer; a look from Sheltersuit’s fall collection.  Sheltersuit/Tony Docekal

The design, which is fortified with upcycled sleeping bags that have been artfully patched together, is thoughtfully constructed to protect those living on the streets, including details like an oversized hood to the shield the wearer’s face and an integrated scarf. In addition to the suits, which are produced in Timmer’s native Netherlands, a South African outpost produces Shelterbags—portable beds with a sleeping bag and pillow that roll up into a functional backpack.

Last year, Shelterbags made a guest appearance on Gabriela Hearst’s fall 2021 collection for Chloé, officially putting it on the fashion world’s radar. The show included backpacks that were sold to raise funds for the foundation, and coats that would not be produced but helped shine light on the cause—all made from the fashion house’s deadstock materials.

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From there, Sheltersuit’s momentum skyrocketed and, earlier this month, the foundation debuted its first full collection during Paris Fashion Week. Using deadstock fabrics from Chloé and an array donated by LVMH, the collection brimmed with eye-catching parkas and riffs on traditional trenches and bomber jackets, worn with jeans produced in collaboration with LA-based Re/Done. The aim is to sell the collection along the lines of the Tom’s model: buy a jacket and one will be donated to a person in need.

Details of a Sheltersuit jacket; a runway look from Sheltersuit's fall collection.

Details from Sheltersuit’s fall 2022 fashion show.  Sheltersuit/Tony Docekal, Alex Pommier

“I really am already fantasizing about the summer collection, we really want to continue,” says Timmer. “We’re now talking to buyers of different department stores and online platforms. So, this first sales period is very important for us to get our head above the water, [stay] sustainable and then donate more to the foundation.”

And of course, Timmer is also interested in continuing collaborations with Chloé and other like-minded brands (“like a Supreme or North Face…A company of that size could really make an impact on millions of people”) and expanding Sheltersuit’s presence in the States (currently, he’s looking to establish a production center stateside)—anything that amplifies the foundation’s mission. “We really look for new partners, investors, designers to collaborate with. And of course, always donations to our nonprofit, the Sheltersuit Foundation…I really see that donations are really needed, not just because of what is happening in Ukraine, because we want to protect people there, but also the situation in all of Europe and the world. It’s ridiculous. I really want to urge people to help us and protect as many people as possible.”

It’s rare that fashion can actively help a crisis, but Sheltersuit is proving just how much good style can do.

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