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Faculty, grad students test convertible coats for the homeless


Sue Wroblewski demonstrates how the coat converts to a sleeping bag on March 22 in Room 115 in the Engineering and Technology Building.

Faculty and students in the Center for Merchandising and Design Technology spent more than three weeks testing the design of a coat that can be converted into a sleeping bag for the homeless.

The center partnered with The Empowerment Plan, a non-profit organization in Detroit that distributes the coats to the homeless. The organization has distributed more than 10,000 coats across the nation since 2012. The non-profit asked CMU last November to ensure its coats are providing the warmth and protection necessary to keep the homeless warm throughout the Michigan winter.

“This convertible coat is for the homeless, so it is very necessary to be warm,” said Sabrina Marsha, a graduate research assistant. “Michigan, along with many other states, (has) very bad winters so those who don’t have a home need (coats). It feels good to know that I was a part of this project.”

Lab Coordinator Sue Wroblewski collaborated with graduate students to understand the coat’s insulation properties. By using a combination of standard and non-standard testing, the group compared the coat to other coats on the market.

“We tested them at basically no cost because we wanted to do everything we could do to help,” Wroblewski said. “We have some special equipment that no one else has, so it was great that we could use it to make a difference.”

The group used a unique sweating thermal mannequin to measure heat loss, hot plates to test the product in dry and wet conditions, and an environmental chamber to simulate cold winter nights. The product was first tested as a coat and then tested as a sleeping bag, Wroblewski said.

Nicole Daniels, a Clarkston graduate assistant, helped Wroblewski with the testing. She said it was a unique experience for her and other CMDT grad assistants.

“People don’t always think about testing sleeping bags, but it’s important to make sure it is warm enough,” Daniels said. “It was really neat to test something so unique and something that will help the community as well.”