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A Creative Approach: Improving the Everyday Experience of Refugees


Last year Fordham GSS sponsored a Sustainable Fashion Show that included a panel that explored the way fashion is and could be used to address human rights, achieve social justice and lift women and children out of poverty. There was so much interest that I decided to start an on-going series that highlights ways fashion and social work can raise awareness of social issues, mobilize and take action together.

One of the models in our show, Patricia Talisse GSS ’16, is a living example of the way two passions: social work and fashion can be combined (we have more than a few here at Fordham GSS). Patricia, an impassioned advocate for migrants and refugees, has spoken at the United Nations in different forums on human rights, migration, and women’s issues. She is involved in many organizations that help migrants on a national and international level. In addition, she participates on committees and in events throughout the city that are related to political, social and humanitarian causes. She has also worked as a fashion stylist and knows a good deal about the world of fashion.

Patricia recently introduced me to an incredible project, spearheaded by fashion designer, Angela Luna. ADIFF is a humanitarian outerwear startup that uses design innovation to assist refugees. Responding to some of the daily struggles that refugees face, they have created a series of all gender and one-size transformable jackets that convert into tents, a sleeping bag, or a backpack, as well as jackets equipped for carrying children, flotation, and [in]visibility. Patricia was so thrilled by Angela’s project and it’s real life action oriented solutions that she is using her advocacy skills to introduce and promote ADIFF through UNHCR, UN Women, with the Migration Committee to the UN, and now with GSS where she asks you to spread the word as well.

Patricia and I are so pleased to share with you the following post by the designer herself, Angela Luna. We hope you are as inspired by her creative approach to raising awareness and solving a social problem as we were.

The fashion industry has often been considered as superfluous or detached from global concerns – because it is. A quick glance at this past fashion week, and almost all of the shows represented unrealistic ideals and far-off fantasies. Fashion has taken itself for granted for years, only creating clothing for the sake of creating clothing. However, with the rise of Millennials, it seems that’s all about to change.

I have no blood ties to the refugee crisis, yet I felt drawn to it on a human level. From the moment I saw the picture of Alan Kurdi on the beach, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to make sure a picture like that never had to be taken again. But here was the problem: I did not go to school for political science, or human rights, or humanitarian action, I went to fashion school – Parsons School of Design. I looked within my industry to see if anyone was doing anything about this issue, and found no one.

About three weeks into my final year at Parsons, I approached my professors and informed them that I was changing my thesis from couture to creating solutions for refugees through design. You could say that I was finally “woke.”

But where to begin? I started to analyze the refugee crisis from a design perspective, and the more that I researched, the more I saw problems that could be addressed through practical designed approaches. From lack of shelter, to lack of sleep, general need for quick relocation, traveling overseas, traveling with young children, and needing to be seen one second and needing to hide the next. Underlying all of these problems was the overall issue of weather and elements. I watched as winter arrived, and saw that these people were freezing. They needed basic, durable, reliable clothing that could withstand extreme wear and usage.

I considered all of these problems and began the task of engineering designs to address them. The end result is an all-gender, one-size collection of outerwear garments that respond to these issues. There are jackets that transform into tents, a sleeping bag, or a backpack, as well as jackets equipped for carrying children, flotation, and [in]visibility. All of the garments are weather and waterproof, prepared to be worn in numerous environments, and can easily adapt between sizes and body types.

The assistance the project offers to the refugee crisis is twofold: on the one side, it is a practical solution that will physically be given to help refugees, but on the other, it uses fashion as a platform to create awareness. Since everyone wears clothes, why not bring meaning and mindfulness to the garments people put on their backs?

This past November, I had the opportunity to travel to the refugee camps in Greece on an aid distribution trip, with a small nonprofit organization. Within the camps, the response to the collection was consistently positive. The garments generated such excitement, and at each camp, it became obvious just how much these products would facilitate the daily lives of refugees and ensure more comfort and safety. These people need these clothes, and they needed them months ago.

There is a way to utilize the frivolity of fashion. Part of the reason why I think the project was such a success within the camps was because it allowed these people to escape from their current situation through something so light as fashion. For just a moment, they did not have to worry about their asylum status or what comes next, and they can have a human moment interacting with the clothes. The experience enlightened me as to how universally uplifting fashion can be, when used for good.

To learn more about ADIFF and how you can help, visit

Lyn Slater, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor
Fordham University  
Graduate School of Social Service 
113 West 60th Street
New York, NY 10023


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