ROOF - addendum to RDM Business Plan, March 2015
Contents / Page
- Background and context 2
- Market 3
- Product specification and availability 5
- Materials specification and availability 6
- Financials 9
- Conclusions 12
US Patent information
Empowerment Plan, Detroit
1. Background and context
BIC Innovation worked with Red Dragon Manufacturing (RDM) during 2014 to develop its business plan and initial financial projections. This work was supported by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
RDM is a social enterprise and therefore seeks to achieve both social and commercial objectives. The core business of Red Dragon Manufacturing is based on making and sewing traditional flags for a variety of markets.
The original business plan sets out RDM’s objectives, which are focused on providing training and employment opportunities in manufacturing to people who are at risk of being excluded from employment.
RDM works with Remploy, the Shaw Trust and Job Centre Wales to achieve their social objectives. RDM is also working with Parc Prison in Bridgend to put in place facilities which will offer training and employment to offenders who are coming to the end of their sentence. The activities at Parc Prison, Bridgend will help RDM build capacity to achieve its commercial objectives and a sustainable trading position. There may also be the opportunity to offer jobs to offenders who have participated in training and employment in Parc Prison.
RDM wishes to extend its social activities by using its sewing expertise in the creation of a weatherproof coat that can be converted into a sleeping bag. The product could have a broad appeal to the outdoor market and festival goers. Similar products have been used by the armed forces. It would also be ideal for homeless people who find themselves having to sleep in the open or with limited shelter.
The underlying business concept is that homeless people would be trained to manufacture these coat bags thereby assisting themselves whilst learning useful skills. This idea comes from a successful project in Detroit USA called the Empowerment Plan.
The project is perceived as being funded from:
- Company donations (especially materials) being the fulfillment of corporate social objectives
- Public funds being ‘value for money’ investment in avoiding the on cost of looking after homeless individuals suffering ill health from exposure to inclement weather
- Commercial sale of the product
This addendum to the original business plan examines the potential effect of introducing the coat bag project on the overall viability and sustainability of Red Dragon Manufacturing.
The product will be filling both a social and commercial demand but the two markets are very different.
Socially, the product will be given away free to homeless people who have to sleep in the open or with limited shelter.
Commercially, this is seen as a niche product for the outdoor and camping market. This could have a particular attraction to festival goers and, possibly, the armed forces.
Red Dragon Manufacturing is located in Swansea which has the highest homeless numbers in Wales. According to BBC News website more than 15,000 people throughout Wales seek council help for being homeless annually. Swansea had the highest number of homeless as a percentage of its population, with Flintshire the lowest. The situation in Swansea has featured in BBC documentaries, the most recent being Swansea: Return to the Streets.
Several charities and organisations offer assistance in this area. Unfortunately, one of the key providers in Swansea, Cyrenians Cymru, recently went into receivership. Other organisations include Shelter Cymru and The Wallich.
Whereas provision or assistance with shelter is highly commendable it does not address the underlying issues. One of the key requirements of homeless people is work to not only support themselves but also to provide self respect. RDM’s proposed coat bag project addresses this issue on both fronts. The primary aim is to provide training to the homeless thereby improving their employability. The secondary aim is to provide them with a free coat bag for use should their circumstances remain such that it was needed.
Perhaps the best known parallel is the Empowerment Project in Detroit where the homeless are trained to manufacture the sleeping bag coat and are also provided with free product. This scheme has now been replicated elsewhere.
Commercially available coat bags are very rare and difficult to source. This does appear to be a niche market but as the socially oriented Empowerment project has proven, such a product can be used.
A similar concept has been used by the German Army. Army surplus product can occasionally be sourced on ebay or ex army stores for as little as £29.99 (when available). However, the product is old technology and very heavy being coated with PVC. It is not a viable competitor to the proposed product.
Again in the niche market, a product in the USA called the JakPak combines jacket, sleeping bag and one man tent. The product sells for $199.99 (approx £135) and combines a waterproof back panel with a water repellent / breathable front so that the user can lie down on wet ground. The product is certainly innovative but does look very bulky and not far short of wearing a coat and carrying a backpack.
At the upper end, Griffin Studio manufacture clothes designed by Jeff Griffin. Within the range there is a sleeping bag coat retailing at £980. The target market appears to be the wealthier camper and festival goer.
Other than these rare exceptions, the coat bag concept seems to be confined to baby wear. It is therefore a largely untested market in the UK but positive feedback from the Empowerment Plan in the USA provides encouragement that it could be successfully launched in this country.
3. Product specification and availability
The most important characteristics of the product will be:
- Thermal quality
- Wind resistance
- Sewing ability
These characteristics are typical of outdoor clothing which is a significant part of the general clothing industry. Most outer layers of outdoor clothes (coats and trousers) have an outer shell that made from woven or compressed synthetic fibres often coated with a water repellent.
Sleeping bags are typically not waterproof as the assumption is that they will be used within a tent or other shelter. Waterproofing can be added by covering the sleeping bag with an outer bivvy bag made of similar material to the outer shell of outdoor clothing. There are some sleeping bags that are waterproof in their own right but these are unusual.
Some of the required characteristics are more obvious than others. In summary the reason for the specifications are as follows:
Thermal retention – the coat bag will need to keep the individual warm when the external temperature is low and potentially below freezing
Wind resistance – wind ingress can very quickly lower the body temperature
Waterproof – to keep the wearer dry in wet weather
Breathable – as above, to keep the wearer dry but in this instance to allow for the escape of water vapour that is constantly produced by the body i.e. sweat (waterproof but non breathable fabric can leave the wearer wetter from retained perspiration than without any weather protection)
Sewing ability – RDM intends to manufacture the product by conventional sewing methods
Durability – outdoor clothes and sleeping bags will endure a significant amount of contact with hard surfaces and will need to be resistant to abrasion and snagging
Flexibility – when worn as a coat (or to a lesser extent as a sleeping bag) there must be freedom of movement. Also, the product should be capable of being packed away into a compact parcel
Weight – the wearer will be mobile and will not want to be unduly weighed down by the product.
4. Materials Specification and Availability
The main materials required for the manufacture of a convertible coat – sleeping bag would be:
- Outer shell – a wind and water resistant but breathable and durable fabric
- Inner padding – quilted down filled layer or similar
- Fastenings – zips, poppers or Velcro
- Threads and tapes – it should be particularly noted that whereas the materials will be sewn they will also need glued tape on the seams to maintain waterproofing
This is possibly the most important consideration. Typically outer shells are made from woven or compacted synthetic fibres, often coated with a water repellent. Many of these materials are branded and available only as prepared products. Some of the most popular materials / brands are:
Gore Tex – market leader used very widely for outdoor clothing, boots and other waterproofed products. The basic functionality is that the fabric is too closely woven to allow liquid water to pass but will allow water vapour to pass through. Unfortunately the fabric is only sold to licensed manufacturers who are closely monitored for quality by the Gore Tex company. If any of this family of textiles were available the choice would possibly be Gore Tex Pro that is used for mountaineering clothing that would typically endure extreme conditions and a high level of abrasion.
HyVent – this is a cheaper competitor to Gore Tex. Unfortunately it is again unavailable other than in North Face manufactured clothes.
Nikwax – this is another branded family of waterproof, breathable fabrics. Its functionality is a little different from Gore Tex and HyVent in that moisture is expelled by a wicking process. Nikwax fabric is used almost exclusively by Paramo set up by the Nikwax founder Nick Brown but now under separate ownership. Nikwax fabric tends to be softer than the Gore Tex and HyVent fabric types.
Pertex – this is another wicking fabric with similar ‘softness’ to Nikwax. It is the only one that we have found that is used in the manufacture of sleeping bags and is available ‘off the roll’. A company called Point North Profabric sells Pertex and other similar materials. The Pertex fabric was made in the UK but the company was sold to a Japanese manufacturer and this apparently has affected its availability.
Paratex – a similar sounding fabric with similar qualities. Paratex is used by Snugpak for the outer shell of its waterproof sleeping bags. Snugpak is one of the very few UK based manufacturers of sleeping bags and is a brand that is apparently popular with the military. The material does not appear to be available other than as part of Snugpak products.
Tyvek – this material probably outdates all the other materials being in commercial use since 1967. It is a DuPont product and is widely available in many forms. Its most typical use is in the construction industry as a waterproof, breathable membrane and in the manufacture of protective clothing. It is not known to be used for outdoor clothing or sleeping bags. Whereas it is highly effective in its own applications its absence from these other markets should be taken as a sign of caution. There is some indication on the web that for the required purpose the product may be inflexibility and lack durability. The fact that it has been available for nearly 50 years and has not been used for outdoor clothing is possibly a strong pointer to its lack of suitability as the outer shell in its own right.
The only two materials known to be available as roll fabric are Tyvek and Pertex. However, other manufacturers could possibly find a social application for their product to be an attractive proposition. There are also a number of coated nylon and other synthetic materials generally available.
RDM’s approach to this is to ‘re-engineer’ the outer shell to be a composite of a heavy duty pure cotton exterior lined with Tyvek. This should provide a suitable outer shell combining the durability (and aesthetics) of the heavy cotton with the waterproof / breathable characteristics of Tyvek.
Inner insulating layer
Better quality sleeping bags typically use down as the thermal insulator and encase the down in quilted fabric to maintain even distribution. One of the disadvantages of down is its tendency to penetrate through fabric. Cheaper sleeping bags will use synthetic insulation that does not pose this problem.
Synthetic insulation can be purchased off the roll or can be bought pre quilted. Some manufacturers including Pennine Outdoor in Yorkshire can supply pre quilted, insulated fabric with one side made of shower proof material. However, any stitching (as is inevitable with quilting) will compromise the water resistance. To attain high level weather resistance the outer shell needs to be one seamless unit if at all possible.
Sleeping bags are not usually waterproof – they are either used within a tent or used with a single skin waterproof / breathable bivvy bag.
However, consistent with the novel approach to the composite outer shell the inner shell will not require waterproof qualities and it’s main function will be insulation and padding.
Fasteners and tapes
Haberdashery is widely available but Pennine Outdoor again have a selection specifically targeting the outdoor clothing / sleeping bag manufacture. The most important issue with fastenings and seams is that they break any waterproof properties of the design.
Most outdoor wear will have all seams glue taped. Many manufacturers keep the exact nature of their gluing techniques a trade secret as it is an essential part of the manufacture and a distinguishing feature of their products.
The original business plan prepared for Red Dragon Manufacturing included financial projections for the five years 2014 to 2018. These core projections have been maintained but augmented with the financial effect of the proposed coat bag project.
The baseline re-projections provided with this addendum to the original business plan assume materials to be purchased at quoted rates (where available) and full labour cost. In reality this is a ‘worst case scenario’ as RDM is confident of getting some materials free in accordance with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies of the manufacturers. Also, trainees will be fully paid for by training incentive schemes and the initial labour cost thereby reduced.
At the time of writing 2014 results are not available to verify the start point but the comparison clearly shows that at ‘worst case’ the coat bag project, subject to the assumptions made’ would be successful. The main assumptions are:
- Sales commence at 5 per month in July 2015 increasing by a further 5 per month in each subsequent quarter to a maximum of 30 per month in October 2016.
- Materials all purchased at website quoted rates.
- Production time of 4 man hours.
- Labour paid in full at £6.50 per hour.
- Selling price of £126.00 (£105.00 net of VAT)
Selling price for a new product is always difficult but the following supporting evidence has been used:
- Snugpak Adventure Racing System (waterproof sleeping bag) - £119.95
- JakPak combined jacket / bag / tent - $199.99 (approx £135)
- Griffin Studio ‘designer’ coat bag - £980
The calculations do not include the free issue of any of the product. The approach here would be to save money on free issue or discounted issue of materials and to convert this saving into ‘cost free product’ e.g. in simplistic terms a 20% reduction to the cost base (which is an entirely reasonable target – Tyvek have already contributed free product) would convert into a 1 for 5 free issue.]
The main driving force behind this project would be its social benefits. The two fold benefits of training provision and free issue of inclement weather apparel is self evident.
Financial consideration of the project shows it to be potentially viable subject, as always, to assumptions made being delivered. The success of the parallel Empowerment Plan in Detroit also points to its financial viability.
It is not an entirely new product but the market for it appears to be significantly under developed. Whereas entry into any market, in particular a largely untested market, should be approached with caution there are very positive signs that this socially worthwhile project could succeed.
It is RDM’s intention to cautiously test the market and proceed from that point onwards.
A Google patent search for coat and sleeping bag reveals a list of similar US patented projects dating between 1941 and 2007.
US Patent for coat bag - Hooded Jacket with Convertible Sleeping Bag US 20120260394 A1
A wearable garment that converts into a sleeping bag for insulating a user from environmental elements. The garment comprises a hooded jacket having two side portions covering a user's chest, a rear portion covering a user's back, two arm portions and a jacket hood. A lower pouch is removably secured at the bottom of the jacket and folds up to lie flat against the interior of the rear portion and jacket hood. This lower pouch is a recess contoured to fit the shape of a human lower body and having two feet shaped recesses at the bottom. By contouring the lower body enclosure to fit the shape of the legs and feet, excess air space is eliminated and overall insulation is improved. In this way the device provides a user with an easy to carry, non-cumbersome sleeping bag that protects the user from the outdoors and cold environments.
Empowerment Plan, Detroit from http://www.empowermentplan.org/#!the-coat/cass
One woman’s college class project to design coats that double as sleeping bags for the homeless has become a nonprofit initiative to employ and empower the homeless population of Detroit, and maybe even the world.
The Empowerment Plan began in 2010 as an idea to fulfill Veronika Scott’s assignment for her product-design class at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
Scott’s product was a coat that transformed into a sleeping bag for the homeless population of Detroit. The latest design is a lightweight, self-heated and waterproof coat with pockets, a hood and a section that pulls out to become the foot of the sleeping bag. It can be rolled up and turned into a shoulder bag for the warmer months.
For five months, and even after her class ended, Scott worked with the homeless at the shelter Neighborhood Service Organization in Detroit to develop the first prototype of the coat.
The Empowerment Plan employs 13 former and current homeless people to manufacture its coats. The organization only hires homeless single parents without a violent crime record. Employees are paid well above the minimum wage in Michigan and are given microloans.
The coats are not only ordered by nonprofit organizations for free distribution to the homeless, but are also used by the Red Cross for disaster relief. With the help of donations and machines, materials for the coats, and contributions from Detroit-area companies like General Motors and clothes-maker Carhartt, the Empowerment Plan plans to create 4,000 coats this year.
Each coat costs $99 to make, so the Empowerment Plan asks for donations of $100 per coat. Scott hopes increased production will push the manufacturing cost down to $60 a coat by year’s end. The coats come in one size for now but a shorter version is in the works.