This Fashion Designer Wants to Save the Lives of Refugees

Angela Luna is a New York fashion student who has created a series of waterproof outerwear that morphs into floating jackets, sleeping bags and tents.
June 29, 2016, 11:00am
Image: Backpack Jacket. Angela Luna

Over the past year and a half, 1.2 million refugees have arrived to Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. That's not to say everyone who sets out on the journey makes it. This year, 2,510 people are believed to have drowned in shipwrecks and capsized boats on the Mediterranean, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

No fashion designer has really thought to build survival clothing that goes beyond your typical lifejackets—until now.

Angela Luna, a 22-year-old fashion student at the Parsons School of Design in New York, created a line of outerwear that responds to the problems refugees face on a daily basis, by creating inflatable jackets, as well as coats, that turn into to sleeping bags and waterproof tents.

"Crossing the Boundary" is her first collection as part of her conscious fashion company Adiff (for "a difference"), which she describes as "design intervention for global issues."

"This collection for me really came from a sense of helplessness," said Luna.

"I felt this overwhelming sense of empathy and desire to offer whatever I can to help these people," she said. "But I live in New York. I study fashion."

Aside from donating to a refugee charity, Luna didn't feel like she could do much. That is, until she realized she could do so with her thesis project at school.

"When my professors and classmates were discussing the latest runway shows, I found myself reflecting on how distant this issue was from our daily lives—how could we be sitting in this classroom, acting as if people are not dying on the other side of the world?" she asked.

"I told my professors that I was going to change the concept for my thesis to focus on the refugee crisis; I just knew that I wanted to help and since my skill set was in design and fashion, I had no other choice."

A few pieces in her collection include an inflatable floating jacket that can be blown up to keep its wearer afloat on a journey by sea, a glow-in-the-dark jacket with an inbuilt baby carrier and two different poncho-like coats that turn into tents (one small tent that fits two people, another larger tent that fits up to six people). Luna also has a jacket that turns into sleeping bag and another one that turns into a backpack. There is also an entirely reflective jacket which is reversible, in case the wearer needs to hide.

But is she the first to do it? Luna was shocked none of the big fashion brands have taken a step to address the refugee crisis on the runway. "I was surprised to learn that no one has done anything," she said.

However, there have been similar fashion-related artworks, like a series of survival clothing pieces called "Refuge Wear and Body Architecture" created by British artist Lucy Orta from 1992 to 1998, which was never mass-produced, and the Stealth Wear collection by New York artist Adam Harvey. And Sadie Coles Gallery in London is selling clothing by designers like Vivienne Westwood for the London for Refugees initiative, which launched this week and will donate all proceeds to one refugee organization helping migrants arrive in Greece.

"Clothing is so necessary for survival, especially in the winter months and when traveling, so the fashion industry should be making larger strides at assisting the other 99%," said Luna.

Luna is still in the prototyping phase, so she just has her first round of handmade samples. She then plans to work with the International Rescue Committee and other NGOs to help distribute her pieces to refugees.

"I am hoping to travel to refugee camps in Europe to do some user testing and better refine the garments before production," she said.

Until then, Luna hopes this outerwear line can be worn in different ways. "I'm calling the jackets 'outerwear anywhere,' so you can wear it for long distance hiking, camping or even just on the streets in New York."

Her plan is to launch the collection summer 2017with items priced from $50 to $300. For every sale, a portion of the proceeds will go to refugee organizations.

"My goal is to just be sure that whoever takes a part in this business has the same morals I do and cares about making a difference," she said. "I see this business going far with widespread donations and distribution; and changing the fashion industry itself."