MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Noah Ovshinsky of member station WDET reports.
NOAH OVSHINSKY: Enter Veronika Scott, a student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Instead of designing cars or consumer appliances, as is more typical at her school, the 21-year-old junior has come up with a product that will be made by and for Detroit's homeless. It began as a class assignment. Scott says she looked for something people living on the street desperately needed.
VERONIKA SCOTT: Talking with them and just listening to them and watching them, it took months of - to finally realize what their need was. And that was heat and pride.
OVSHINKSY: Now, this is usually where the project ends; a need is identified, a product is designed and a grade issued. But Veronika Scott didn't stop here. She spent around $2,000 of her own money to construct several prototypes of her coat.
SCOTT: I can design a lot of things. And I have designed high-end electronics, and I may go back to that. But right now, in this economy, there's a lot of different needs that aren't going to be solved by a new cell phone.
OVSHINSKY: As Scott puts on one of the coats, it's clear that fashion takes a backseat to function. But then again, it doesn't have to look pretty. It just has to work. And work it does. Within a few seconds of putting on the coat indoors, Scott starts to sweat.
SCOTT: So I'm now putting the coat on. And this coat is made for someone at least a foot and a half taller than me so it hangs a little baggy.
OVSHINKSY: The coat is made from materials designed for other purposes, in this case, wool army blankets and paper-thin home insulation, a brand called Tyvek. By using these low-cost materials, Scott hopes to offer the coat for free. To get to the production phase, she's relying on an apparel company whose products are a fixture of daily life for many Americans.
MARK VALADE: She's probably spent hundreds of hours putting this product together for the end-user. It's pretty incredible for a 21-year-old.
OVSHINSKY: Mark Valade is the CEO of Carhartt, one of the nation's oldest and best-known makers of heavy-duty work clothes. After a meeting with Veronika Scott, Valade donated industrial sewing machines and materials for her project.
VALADE: As we walked her downstairs and showed her some insulations, some outerwear shelves types of things, and she goes, yeah, I kind of like that, but you know, this wouldn't work. And she knew exactly what she wanted.
OVSHINSKY: For NPR News, I'm Noah Ovshinsky in Detroit.