Volunteers Upcycle Refugees’ Life Vests into New Products, Temporary Shelters

life jacket from refugees arriving in greece

Media headlines have been flooded with coverage of people fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa. Experts estimate nearly 660,000 refugees have arrived in Greece this year, according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency. The 630-mile island of Lesbos (also spelled “Lesvos”) particularly has been overwhelmed with over 3,000 travelers each day.

As a result, mountains of life vests, clothing and rubber boats have been left behind as refugees continue their journeys to safety. Whatever isn’t brought to the island’s dump site collects on the beaches, and threatens to pollute surrounding land and waters. Municipal officials were puzzled as to what to do with the remnants until recently volunteers suggested they be upcycled.

Jai Mexis, a Greek volunteer, recognized life vests’ highly durable exterior makes them a versatile reusable product. He began leading the design process to make and sell handbags, backpacks, raincoats and even calendars made from life vests. For instance, every two life vests can be turned into one complete handbag. There are predictions that Greek fashion company, Redo, will assist in the efforts. The popular brand is best known for their handmade handbags and accessories, some made from cork and faux leather materials.

With an abundance of life vests, Mexis hopes they too will be able to construct short-term use shelters for refugees. The project will provide employment for Greek residents and revenue to buy essentials. Lesbos’ Mayor Spyros Galinos is supporting the group of 100 or so volunteers by providing a truck for transporting life vests and finding a factory location. The next phase of the project will be to raise funds to purchase sewing equipment. Despite the many tragedies happening in Lesbos and nearby communities, many are hopeful this creative solution will be a great success that could be duplicated in other cities.

Do you have any other ideas of how life vests can be upcycled? Do you know of any other stories of people supporting refugees? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Photo credit: robbinsbox / Shutterstock.com

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