In our interview, Bart Nijsink explains how the Sheltersuit Foundation came about and how he thinks people should treat the homeless.
Bas Timmer has always been passionate about sewing. At the age of 16, he transformed his bedroom into a sewing workshop and started making his own clothes. A hoodie with an integrated scarf that he designed gained popularity in his home country while he was still attending the fashion academy. Shortly afterwards, he founded his own outdoor fashion line for cold weather. During a fashion internship in Copenhagen, he noticed the high number of homeless people. Bas thought about giving away his warm hoodies. However, his mother expressed concern that this might affect the sale of his products.The idea was put on hold until a dramatic experience two years later. A friend’s father died of hypothermia on the street because an emergency shelter had been closed. For Bas, it was now clear that he had to take action. It just didn’t feel right to him to sell fashionable clothing at high prices while many people couldn’t even afford warm clothing. Since then, he and co-founder Bart Nijsink have successfully worked towards the ambitious goal of “keeping all homeless people in the world warm.” Read what Bart has to say!
What problem do you solve with Sheltersuit? Why exactly does it need your solution?
The Sheltersuit Foundation is producing a suit which is a jacket with a detachable sleeping bag specially designed for homeless people. The Sheltersuit gives direct warmth, protection and dignity to the one who is homeless, and builds a bridge between the social worker/ helper and the person facing homelessness. The Sheltersuits are made in our own social factory and it is a fully upcycled product by using textile waste from the outdoor-, workwear- and fashion industries.
What did you do before you started the current project/company?
Interim Sales consultant for a textile recycling company.
What or who motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?
I was 54 when I joined Sheltersuit Foundation. I wanted to give something back to the world, for an organization that really makes an impact. Now I can use my knowledge, network and experience for a good cause.
Which of your achievements have been particularly memorable for you?
To be able to sign a few long-term partnerships that give the Foundation stability.
Were there any moments that were especially challenging? What have you learned from these?
The Sheltersuit is multiple useable, so also by war refugees and natural disasters. When the earthquake came in Turkey and Syria, we could work 24 hours a day. We know now what to do when similar situations will happen again. We act first and then ask for donations, donors like to see what is happening with their money. We were able to do this, but next time even better.
© Bart Nijsink | Sheltersuit
„I wanted to give something back to the world, for an organization that really makes an impact. Now I can use my knowledge, network and experience for a good cause.”
— Bart Nijsink, Fundraising & Partnerships at Sheltersuit
Where do you want to take your journey in the future and what are your next big goals?
Homelessness is a worldwide problem, We want to roll out internationally with Sheltersuit Franchise offices. So, we can produce locally more Sheltersuits, create more jobs for people with a distance from the labour force, and upcycle more fabrics into an impactful product. So, in the end, help more people. At the moment we have franchises in Cape Town, South Africa, the UK, and an office in the USA.
What do you wish you had known before you started your project/company? What advice would you give to others?
Bas Timmer started the Sheltersuit Foundation when he was only 24 years old. Without any NGO experience. With the current knowledge, we would have focused on attracting experienced staff to the Sheltersuit Foundation. Today in the Netherlands we have 25 people working in our social factory. In the Foundation another 9 people in the Foundation. We will make in 2024 more than 10.000 Sheltersuits and will distribute them all during the coming winter. This is a huge achievement.
What podcast do you listen to regularly? Which book is an absolute must-read for you personally?
I read the De Correspondent, it is a newspaper and podcast in one. It touches on various topics written in an objective way about worldwide and local issues. A book to read regarding homelessness: Gutter to Glory by Kerri Douglas.
What are your tips for doing good in everyday life? Where do you find it rather difficult to live sustainably?
It is very basic but giving is so much more rewarding than taking. So if you do something for other people, it will make you happy. I find it sometimes difficult to live sustainably due to small things I personally do, and the bigger problems that could make so much more impact are going on.
Which organisation or start-up impresses you and is in your opinion a true role model?
I think every start-up nowadays who wants to do good for the people and/ or the world is great. I was at the DLD (Digital, Life, Design) in Munich in September last year and heard so many great new initiatives that make me happy. We partner with many homelessness organisations and they all do very nobel work that is unseen by many people.
Complete this sentence: The world needs more …
… love and understanding.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes, Please do not look at a homeless person like a loser. It could happen to any one of us. How would you feel if you have obviously a problem and everyone is walking by like you are not there? Greet them, Say good morning, good afternoon, or good evening. If you have time make a conversation, ask them if you can get them anything if you have the opportunity to do so. Small things will give them confidence that they are not alone in this world. Thank you.
Every month, we interview interesting entrepreneurs and focus on their personal stories. The interviews are intended to inspire, motivate and encourage people to put their own ideas into practice.
Do you know any social entrepreneurs with an inspiring story that we should interview? Then write to us!
Andrea Rebensburg, GOOD Impact Portfolio: firstname.lastname@example.org
In February 2024, we are supporting Sheltersuit. Find out more on the project page: