Street Sew: Sewing Kit for the Homeless

Homelessness in Australia has become a growing concern in modern culture, with initiatives taking action to kerb the increasing cultural concern coming from both government run programs to local community based outreach centres. However, from in-depth field research performed, insufficient resources still remain in the homeless community. Pain points were discovered from primary research highlighting several key issues, including lack of durable personal items, financial concerns and space limitations. One point of concern, durability, was the function of this design proposal. Focusing on the observations made from primary research, such as tattered clothes and breaking personal items a solution was found in the form of a small, portable sewing kit through extensive service and product design iterations. Made from a sustainable seed husk composite, the highly durable product has been created to fit the primary criteria discovered in the research phase. Collaborating with Boomerang Bags, a community focused sewing class provider, the hard skill of sewing can be taught to local homeless communities providing the necessary skills required to repair their own personal effects. The product can be manufactured by Bertonni, using similar processes the client already has in place (casting), allowing the sewing kit to be distributed easily to participants of the sewing program once they have completed their course.

research, industrial-design, homeless, community, sew, fabric, project

Street Sew: Sewing kit being held


Through primary research, the aim became clear to design a product in collaboration with a teaching service that provides both a hard skill for the homeless community and a product that will also allow them to repair their personal items. Taking into consideration the context of overcrowding, space optimization was a key component to the final design of the product.

Street Sew: Sewing kit in the side pocket of a backpack.


Through in-depth research, the problem was observed where people wore poorly made over-worn clothes, and the skills and resources to repair their clothing was not present. However due to cost limitations, brand new clothing may not have been, this then presented a need for a durable, cheap and space efficient product that can aid in the repair of clothing, ultimately improving the quality of life.

Direction + Criteria

From the research conducted, several criteria became apparent to aid in the success of the product.

Who will teach the hard skills necessary to repair your own clothes?

Boomerang Bags, an existing community service, can facilitate sewing classes that may be used to teach the local homeless communities the required skills.

What will it be made from to reach an adequate durability?

This is where ATD comes into solve; by taking the fundamentals components at play from how a seed protects itself, the material chosen to make the product from is a seed husk composite. Both for the durability it provides which allows it to reach a high level of waterproofness, but also the added benefit of being highly sustainable thanks to it renewable content.

How will space limitations be considered?

Thanks to iterative design processes, the final design proposal takes space limitations as a fundamental cornerstone. By making itself as small as it can be, whilst also enabling the secure storage of all the essential sewing kit consumables.

Who will make the final product?

Thanks to the previous material choices as discussed the client, Bertonni, can manufacture the product cheaply with minimal training due to the composites ability to be casted, which as discussed by the client is already the primary means of manufacture at Bertonni with their range of products being created via a not too dissimilar slip casting process.

Design Process + Timeline

The process of designing the product took form in several stages. Initially, a fundamental research stage took place by going out into the field and conducting participant observations in conjunction with informal discussions at local community run non-profits. One example of this was the several sessions made at the West End Community House located in South Brisbane, where through the means of volunteering, research was able to be conducted from the community centres point of view.

Inspired by discussions with the homeless community, several concepts were developed from the perspective of secure storage as the main focus. Resulting in three initial ideas, wall-mounted storage, a locker system and upcycled bags. After the initial concept stage, all but the bag concept was discarded leading to more thorough research to be had. Asking questions such as “who will make it?” and “what will it be made from?” which exposed several obvious issues with the concept. All of which pointed to the inherent difficulty of sewing as a hard skill to manufacture. This then lent another new design concept where sewing is the main focus.

Expanding on the new pathway, research was conducted to discover the hard skill of sewing, and the many uses it has. All of which led to the final design you see here discussed, where the product combines both the tangible and the service. Where the service is the collaboration with Boomerang Bags, necessary to provide the skills to sew; and the product, is the facilitator for users to employ their new found skills to repair and create their own personal effects.

Street Sew: Sewing kit on a desk around other sewing paraphernalia