When Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant asked young Dutch designer Bas Timmer (30) to describe what it felt like to become one of Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders of 2020, his response was as simple as it was typically down-to-earth Dutch: “Madness.” Timmer is the designer of the Sheltersuit, which ‘provides immediate shelter to the homeless, while using upcycled material and providing jobs’. His combination of carrying bag, sleeping bag and winter coat for homeless people and refugees managed to captivate the American weekly, which included him in its biannual selection of rising stars in politics, technology, culture, science, sports and business. Always on the lookout for the next generation inspirational and forward-thinking innovative pioneers who are ‘breaking new ground, crossing borders and creating change,’ Time selected Timmer for being ‘an advocate for the homeless.’
Everyone deserves dignity
The idea was born when the homeless father of friend of Timmer died of hypothermia. “I felt guilty,” Timmer told Time. “I had the opportunity to help, and I did nothing.” So, Timmer set out to design something that would meet the requirements of a harsh life on the streets: waterproof, warm and portable, as well as good for sleeping. Part tent and part parka, the Sheltersuit is made up of a detachable sleeping bag that can be zipped off and easily stored during the day. As Time relates: “He presented his mashup to a local homeless man, who was enchanted.” Time met Timmer in South Africa, when he presented a simple variant of the suit at a global design event in Cape Town, the Shelterbag: a mattress that can be rolled out into a waterproof cover, or can be used as a ‘tent’ for less cold winters. “We found a studio in Cape Town, and producers for the bag, and authorities for homeless people who wanted to hand out the bags. We had everything except money,” Timmer told De Volkskrant.
While his Sheltersuits were transported to refugees on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos and to homeless people in Sydney, Timmer moved his focus to the US. Based on the belief that ‘everyone deserves warmth, protection and dignity,’ Timmer’s Sheltersuit Foundation, currently based in the Netherlands, New York and South Africa, has by now distributed 12,500 Sheltersuits to homeless people in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and the US, as well as to refugees in Greece, adapting his designs to local conditions. In doing so, he has used 21.000 kilos of upcycled materials from the textile industry’s surplus of fabrics, and created 112 jobs so far.
Time has been making its selections of Next Generation Leaders, or NGLs, since it launched its project in partnership with Rolex in 2014. As part of its ongoing search for the ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ it aims to introduce young people from around the world who have not just succeeded in their fields, but have also ‘persuaded others to share their vision.’ Throughout the years, its selection of rising stars has ‘excelled and surprised’ with ideas in politics, business, culture, science and sports. The NGLs are all chosen for being able to lead by example and inspiring others to have the courage to follow their convictions.
Timmer joins an impressive list of previous honourees that have ‘gone on to lead nations, receive Oscar nominations and become Olympic stars.’ Some have excelled in prosthetics entrepreneurialism or marine bio-geochemistry, or have been chosen as Latin America’s youngest lawmaker at only 20 years old. The programme has already put the spotlight on projects to help indigenous people of Canada, solve some of the oldest problems in surgery, transform journalism in Turkey, and break cycles of crime in Mexico. Thanks to Timmer, the issue of homelessness, widely regarded as of the most complex issues that humans can face, has now also been highlighted. Said Time Magazine’s deputy international editor Naina Bajekal about the 2020 selection: “In a year full of crises, this group offers a bright window into the future. They are using their voices and platforms to build movements, break boundaries and push for change.”
Written by Femke van Iperen