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Fifteen below

May 28 2009
Innovative clothing from Canada, a country used to cold weather Innovative clothing from Canada, a country used to cold weather A waterproof, windproof and lightweight jacket that can be stuffed with newspaper to help rough sleepers keep warm has been launched in Canada. More than 3,000 have already been handed out to help some of Canada's 300,000 homeless people brave the country's subzero winters; and the company behind the project, Taxi Canada Inc, hopes that with sponsorship, the jacket can be rolled out in other countries too. The coat's name, 15 Below, represents the temperature at which Cold Weather Alerts are issued in Canada (-15¬?C, or 5¬?F). But although the alerts prompt shelters to make extra spaces available for the night, and to relax curfews and service restrictions, not everyone can get off the streets, even though temperatures can plummet to below -30¬?C. The jacket was the brainchild of advertising guru Steve Mykolyn, who came up with the idea after seeing a homeless man huddled next to a heating vent as he walked home from a basketball game on a freezing February night in 2007. He challenged his company, Taxi, to find a creative way to "give back" to the community. He said: "Unstuffed, it serves as a windbreaker and raincoat. It is super functional, really well made and well designed." The pockets in the hood, chest, back and arms can be stuffed with crumpled newspapers, magazines and flyers to provide insulation. It also folds easily, to be worn as a backpack or used as a pillow, and is lightweight enough to be worn as a raincoat in warmer seasons. Dion Oxford, director of the Gateway shelter, where the jackets were launched, said: "Initially, it sounded like a bit of a joke to us. But the more we thought of it, the more we realised that it was a very smart, practical and functional idea. "These coats can be worn three seasons of the year. People on the street don't have places to store things, so they will often wear a winter coat for the winter and then discard it, or wear it in the summer and become dangerously overheated." January and February are often the hardest months of the year for those in street mission, and "these coats will help us through that season", he added. Mr Mykolyn - who has produced campaigns for brands including Sony, Levi's, Nike and Mini - developed the jacket with top fashion designer Lida Baday. To test the jacket's insulation, he spent eight hours inside an industrial freezer, at temperatures of -28¬?C. But the jacket's real test will be on Canada's frozen streets, where temperatures in some cities during the northern winter can plunge to -30¬?C (-22¬?F), or even lower. Mr Mykolyn added: "There is now one more tool - in a whole toolbox of solutions - to help a homeless person get through the night and through the winter." The Salvation Army has been handing out the coats in soup kitchens and shelters across Canada since November. "The jacket will keep somebody alive," said their spokesman Jonathan Michel, who recently helped to hand out 500 at a soup kitchen in the western Canadian city of Vancouver: "It's brilliant, really. You can stuff it with newspapers, which is a good insulator." Sigrid Mahr, of the Salvation Army, said: "It's waterproof and windproof, so it's perfect for the fall, and in the winter they can wear it if they stuff it with newspaper." Celebrities including Michael Caine, Elton John, Norman Jewison, Nelly Furtado and Jon Stewart have signed jackets, which were then auctioned online, raising more than $8,000 (¬£5,500) for the Salvation Army's distribution. The 15 Below jacket is constructed of black Aquamax, laminated with a non-porous hydrophilic membrane. The fabric is waterproof, windproof, lightweight yet strong and durable, as well as breathable. Cyclists in the Tour de France slip newspapers under their jerseys on mountain summits to reduce the chill on subsequent descent, and Mr Mykolyn learned from researchers that cellulose insulation, common in homes, is often made from recycled newspaper. He said the jackets could be distributed in other countries if a corporate sponsor could be found to fund the project.
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