Adiff founder Angela Luna recently returned from asking refugees in six camps in Greece to critique her protective, multipurpose designs.
Working with the nonprofit Carry the Future, which hand-delivers child carriers and baby boxes to refugee families, Luna visited about six refugee camps in Greece. Each varied in size from about 80 people to a few thousand, depending on the set up. In some locations, there were acres of land covered with tents that 10 people would huddle in. In another, there was an apartment building with 10 rooms, housing 10 people in each room.
Referring to Eftalou, an area known for mountains of life jackets, Luna said, “I thought I had an idea of what it would be like. It’s one thing to see the images on your computer and it’s another thing to stand there — the same thing for the camps. You can read interviews with refugees online or watch a documentary, but it’s a completely different thing and you’re able to physically and emotionally connect on a human level,” she said. “My main thing was I don’t understand how people can be afraid of refugees. The kids I was playing games with were exactly like the pre-schoolers I taught as a camp counselor in my hometown. There are no differences.”
A socially conscious, philanthropic clothing label Adiff is an offshoot of her senior thesis at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, which was inspired by the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. Her Crossing the Boundary outerwear includes jacket that has zippers that can be used to insert poles for a five-person tent. Another has a backpack that can be unzipped into a cape for added warmth. Other items have features to lighten the burden of transporting children, or flotation devices for emergency situations. The reflective reversible jacket and the child-carrying jacket, They also liked the image of the jacket that can be used as a large tent, which Luna had not packed in her duffel bag due to the impracticality of its weight.
Trying to explain her concept with hand gestures and a line sheet, Luna said she tried to find the person in each camp who was most fluent in English, “usually an eight-year-old little girl.” She said she would tell them, “I’m a designer. I live in New York and I created a collection that is designed to help refugees deal with different issues. I have some in the bag with me. Could you please try them on and let me know which one you like best or that you think would be the most useful? I’m planning to produce them to give them in the camps hopefully this year.”
Still in talks with potential investors, Luna recently started a $25,000 crowdfunding project to begin distributing Adiff this winter or spring. She estimated that between $100,000 and $200,000 would be needed for the next six months, but she definitely would not turn down a larger investment should a deal be worked out. “I’m lucky that my family is willing to help pay for my apartment and my grandparents are paying for legal things like trademarking.”
Her strategy is to only distribute to camps that she can guarantee that each person in that camp will receive a garment. She is also looking to create children’s versions of her designs since children comprised half the population of each camp she visited. Improving the distribution process in the camps is another priority, she said. From what she witnessed in the camps, “It was only sorted by male and female. It wasn’t sorted by sizes, seasons or durability. Some were a little dirty or smelled a little weird. If someone said they wanted a winter jacket, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to try it on or have in a say in what was given to them. When I do my distribution, I’d like to set it up in a much more dignified way, maybe with a trailer or trucker going around to the different camps.”
Luna is hoping to relocate from Crown Heights to Europe to be closer to the crisis. “Being back here and readjusting has been kind of difficult after going through that,” she said, noting she will go back to the camps this winter with her photographer boyfriend to document her efforts.
Her memory of a Yazidi man who gave her two bracelets made from string and yarn he found in the camps remains vivid. Recalling how he thanked her with tears in his eyes, she said. “That’s definitely someone I want to continue to fight for after everything he’s been through. And I still have the bracelets on my wrists.”