The amount of creativity coming out of Detroit is just astounding, and Veronika Scott is one maker who has put her time and energy into making a difference in the community. Veronika spearheaded The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based humanitarian project which centers around the Element S Coat, a self-heated, waterproof garment that transforms into a sleeping bag at night. The coat is made by a group of homeless women who have been paid to learn and to produce the coats for those living on the streets. Veronika is one of the hundreds of makers who will be presenting at Maker Faire Detroit, taking place next weekend, July 30 and 31, at The Henry Ford in Dearborn.
1. Tell us about The Empowerment Plan project. How did it start and how will you be bringing it to life at Maker Faire?
This project really started for me as a student at the College for Creative Studies. Up until then, as young industrial designers, we have been working on products, such as cellphones and medical equipment, that were really just aesthetic and couldn’t exist in the real world; they were purely conceptual. When I started The Empowerment Plan, it was the first time I had to think beyond the scope of just “user” or “client” — this had to pertain to a community of individuals. And to me it was no longer just a concept, it was something that I was trying to make happen. So working within the scope of reality was pretty new to me.
The reason The Empowerment Plan has gotten as far as it has is because of a culmination of people, timing, and place. I wouldn’t have been able to start this as a 21-year-old student if I had not been in Detroit, because really, Detroit is this wild, wild west of creativity. We are notorious for just doing things. We spend a lot of time creating what most people just talk about or dream about doing. I think Maker Faire is a great representation of this. As a city we are a group of makers, and in the next five years I am planning on buying a series of buildings. Now where else in the world could a college student accomplish such a feat?
2. How did the idea for the Element S come about and what went into designing it?
To me the Element S coat is a sideliner to the more poignant part of The Empowerment Plan. The Element S coat is a product, and that is essentially what I am trained to make as a student of the College of Creative Studies, so to me it was very utilitarian. It’s like redesigning a shoe — it’s not the same shoe, but we’ve improved on certain things. So I added a sleeping bag to a coat, and I only did this because the people I have worked with at Neighborhood Service Organization needed it. I designed a product that they already needed, a coat that they could wear in the day, a product that would keep the heat in so when it was freezing outside, they wouldn’t freeze with the temperatures.
The sleeping bag aspect of the coat came out of a more emotional need, strangely enough, rather than a physical one. I added it to address the need of pride. There are a lot of homeless individuals that refuse to go into shelters. Their daily needs depend on the whims of others. Most people, including me, just want to be able to take care of themselves. I don’t want to ask for things just to survive, I want to be able to take care of them on my own, and that is a basic desire everyone has. I added on the sleeping bag of the Element S coat so that those individuals who did not want to be in shelters or whom the shelters could not convince to come inside could have something to keep them alive in the winter, designed in their size in the colors they want and made of new materials that they could claim ownership of.
3. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
I have heard about Maker Faire for a few years now. Since I live in the city, and also go to school in the city, those that are Detroit natives always talk about it. I have always wanted to participate, but I have never felt that I had anything to share with the community until now.
4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I started making things when I was a kid. I don’t know if they were particularly useful, mostly it was just contraptions that would trip my parents on the stairs, or wake them up at night. I also enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together, and seeing if I could get them back in working order; 70% of the time I wasn’t successful, but the other 30% was fantastic.
One of my inspirations, when I was really young, and it took me a while to realize it was Tyree Guyton. When I was five, my grandparents took me to see the Heidelberg Project, and as a semi-inventor artistic kid, this was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized the battle that Mr. Guyton had to go through to keep his art alive, battling city government and hostile individuals. He’s been around for as long as I remember.
5. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?
Haha. I am a full-time student, and I don’t have a day job yet, and this, The Empowerment Plan, is quickly becoming my career. What started off as a school project turned into a fascination, and into something that I will be investing 100% of my self in for at least the next 5 years.
6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
The Girl Effect is a project that is truly inspiring to me. They took their non-profit and gave the power of marketing into the hands of the public. Everyone tells their story their own way. The Girl Effect realizes that there is more to helping people then doing damage control, but actual prevention. They have been a great example as I find my way through the non-profit world.
7. What is your motto?
Anything easy isn’t worth having.
8. What do you love most about Detroit?
Well that’s a broad question. I’m stuck between people, food, music, and fierce city pride. I am going to be diplomatic and say all of the above, because they usually go hand in hand, where you can be at the Woodbridge Pub getting an awesome meal, across the street go to the Green Shack and see about 5 bands from throughout the world for free, and a group of people that are so fiercely and intensely proud to be where they are right now.
Thanks for the inspiration, Veronika! If you’re in the Detroit area, come out to the Faire next weekend, and prepared to be amazed at what your community is making. For all the information you need, head over to the Maker Faire Detroit site.
NOTE: Top image of Veronika Scott by Ruby Troyano.