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Blanket to Bedding: Let's keep our friends warm!

Space blanket made from recycled material for people in need to keep them warm, that also turns into a temporary sleeping pad/bag.

Photo of Aakar Mehra

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"At its core, a circular economy means that products no longer have a

life cycle with a beginning, middle, and end, and therefore contributes

less waste and can actually add value to their ecosystem." -Circular Design Guide

The idea that is mentioned above, in a way suggests that, if we can allow a product to stay with the user(s), then we can reduce the overall waste and energy consumption. Redesigning a product that can be utilized by thousands of homeless people and refugees,such that it serves their purpose along with creating a circular economy around the product.

This idea started as a concept for a design of a new mattresses made from Nike Grind with additional capabilities of refurbishing their existing bedding. Based on some of the feedback from the OpenIDEO community and more research into the needs of the homeless or refugees, the idea has now evolved into an individual space blanket that doubles as a sleeping pad/bag. 

Staying warm is the one of the hardest challenges that most people on the street face on a daily basis in almost every part of the world. They do anything and everything to keep themselves warm in the harsh conditions; anything from using crumpled newspaper under their clothes, to worn and torn coats or blankets or use an emergency Mylar blanket. We can help reduce this problem by designing a product that can help them stay warm during the day with easy to wear, warm blankets, coats and insulated sleeping pad/mattresses that holds the body heat while they sleep in some corner of the street or in a refugee camp.

This product is a small step towards helping the homeless and refugeesComforter to stay warm. The Fluffy Blanket, is a blanket made out of recycled Nike Grind material that can be easily folded into an insulated sleeping pad. Like regular comforters, this blanket has partitions made in a specific locations that will allow people to easily wrap it around themselves, even when they are sitting. Fluffy Blanket will allow them to cover not just their lower body and torso, but also their neck and face. If you take any of your blanket and try to wrap yourself in it, with some movement, it generally starts to slip. To adapt to that issue, Fluffy Blanket has arm sleeves built in on both sides. It is easy to slide your arms in the sleeves and has quick Velcro opening at the other end, in case you need your hands for anything. 

The arm sleeves and wings below it, were inspired by bio-mimicking bats. It can be easily worn if you are standing or sitting without creating gaps for wind to penetrate.

When you need to take a nap or sleep on a cold sidewalk, you can fold your Fluffy Blanket into a soft sleeping pad or bag. The arm sleeves fold from both sides into the middle third and triples up in softness and comfort as a single person pad. You can also slide your arms in the sleeves, and try to wrap the two side thirds over you and create a cozy pocket for warmth.

How is this going to help in circular economy? What is the sustainability perspective?

This product keeps circular design at its core, to allow for not having to replace it frequently and reuse as much as possible. The material used in this product are all recycled and put together in a way that makes it easy to refurbish the blanket. In case the Fluff or Foam gets flattened, it is easy to replace what's inside with new fresh, softer material. The flattened material can be pulled out and run through some hot air pressure (dryer), can be easily Fluffed up again! It provides a sustainable economy for the organization that manufactures as (unfortunately) there is always going to be a need for such blankets.

Additionally, in the productions process, we can create training documents/videos/GIFs for educating the users (homeless and refugees) to produce or refurbish the blanket. These training and skill development interfaces can then be easily provided to every Non-Profit or NGO that order this blanket. This will enable people everywhere to either duplicate the production process or refurbish the used blankets. 

How does this help Nike in doubling the business and reducing the impact on the environment?

The Fluffy Blanket is made mostly out of up-cycled shoe Grind, so it requires very low amount of energy consumption to be produced. The impact on the environment due to waste going to landfills or into the oceans, reduces and we do not need too many resources to manufacture the product. The product can also be sold to general public and the profits from that used to distribute the same to the people in need. (We can partner with the organization or )


How does this improve people's lives and reduce waste?

It is easy to imagine the improvement that we create in each individual's lives by reducing waste and energy consumption overall. More importantly, these products will be most beneficial for people living on the streets or at refugee camps. The raw material would be easy to transport and assemble in any location and can be easily transferred around from one camp to another. We would reduce the amount of shoes thrown away and bring them to use for a good cause. If we sell the same product to general public, conveying that their purchase will help keep another friend on the streets, warm, that would make people feel helpful. 

Immersing myself: Interviews

Conducting interviews in the Ideation Phase to get immersed in people's daily lives inspired me to think outside of my constrained mind. The interviews helped understand the needs of all kinds of demographics. I met with 5 people from varied backgrounds:

  • 28, Female, Sales Rep, Masters Global Policy
  • 25, Male, Chef, Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering 
  • 34, Female, Sensor Engineer, PhD Aerospace
  • 35, Male, Unemployed, High school
  • 40, Female, High School Teacher, Mathematics major

The first set of interview were done to get a general idea about how they perceive products made from recycled material. The questions were aimed to understand if using the Nike Grind material in daily products would be useful. Idea of products were suggested based on as audio or thermal insulation, non-slippery surfaces, items with floating properties, absorption properties and softness.

The overall feedback from these interviews suggested that a product that will come in use most frequently by people should be designed, so that we can use maximum amount of the recycled material. Another learning point was regarding finding more ways that we can help reduce the waste in the environment. My initial two concepts (Make your own bedding and Nike Grind Sieve) were trying to use the two main points, that came out of the interviews conducted.  

After drafting the two concepts and getting feedback from other contributors and design thinkers, I decided to do a few more interviews to get a more focus approach into my concepts. I specifically met with two homeless people and an organization in Ann Arbor that supports intake of refugees. This time the question were about understanding and learning from their needs on a daily basis. Other that the need for food and shelter, what are the most important challenges that they face. In the cold weather of Michigan, staying warm in these conditions was the primary challenge. After more reading and research, I concluded that staying warm is a concern that homeless people have all around the world. 

Based on the new interviews, research and feedback about focused product design, I decided on changing my idea from a mattress to a Fluffy Blanket. This will cover the need of the people on the street to stay warm and also my initial idea of mattress in the form of a sleeping pad/bag. 

Which Nike Grind materials will your idea utilize?

  • Rubber Outsoles
  • Rubber Flashings
  • Rubber Granulate
  • EVA Foam Injection Scraps
  • EVA Foam Flashings
  • EVA Foam Sheets & Blocks
  • EVA Foam Components
  • Laminated EVA Foam
  • Laminated PU Foam
  • Mixed Apparel Textile
  • Mixed Footwear Textile
  • Footwear Fiber "Fluff"

How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?

The Fluffy Blanket will be made from the best quality Nike Grind Apparel fiber, stitched together. The back of the blanket will be one single piece of the stitched sheet, and the front side will have multiple pockets in a specific design as shown in the images. Each pocket will be filled with different combinations of Nike Grind material. The upper torso and low body pockets will have soft Foam and Leather scraps mixed with a lot of Fluff to make it comfortable and insulated. They will be separate sections so that it is easy for the person wrapped in the blanket to sit from standing position or vice versa. The triangular face wrap on the top will be filled with a light layer of "Fluff" to keep it thin yet warm. The two side thirds of the Fluffy Blanket will have pocket in shapes to provide arm sleeves in the middle. All of those pockets will be filled with large amounts of the "Fluff" and some Nike Grind rubber granulates and scraps. Rubber along with soft fuzz will help keep the front of the blanket warm and also provide easy to drape features to the blanket. The arm sleeves will be light and only lines with "Fluff" on the outside. This is to keep the arms warm from the outside but easy to move around on the inside. Each blanket will also be lined with a layer of the aluminum foil like Mylar blanket to keep the body heat from dissipating. This will be in the middle, so that it is not in direct contact with skin or visible from the outside. This is to cover a common problem noticed with the Mylar blankets are with slipping over sweaty skin and excessive reflection on the outside.

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

This product is mainly targeting the homeless people and refugees. It is made for people who want to keep themselves warm. It can be sold to general public, such that the earnings are used for helping improve the production process and generate jobs for more people in need. The target market can only be reached by the help of non-profit organizations that can collaborate with each other in various cities or help with production of the blanket by creating opportunities for their community

How will you scale your idea? Please describe in detail your plan to scale your concept.

The product will be highly utilized by most people in need during the day and night. During the prototyping phase a short video with easy demonstration can be made at the start and the end of the trial run with a homeless person. Later it can be advertised similar to The EMPWR Coat ( on their website (if I can partner with them) or some other similar website. Any regional organization can then order the blanket from this website. Some Obstacles that I foresee: a. The Fluffy Blanket can be a little heavy depending on what material and how much quantity of each is being used. The prototype has to be done in a way that we can test the correct distribution of weight and warmth that we can provide. b. The comfort of the product when it is folded into a sleeping pad or a bag will need testing. There needs to enough space for one person to sleep on and if used as sleeping bag, it needs to have enough width to cover the whole body with ease.

How is your idea innovative?

A blanket is something that people on street need daily. The design that the Fluffy Blanket has, takes in consideration the issues that are the closest to the homeless people. The materials that are used in the "re-design" are new and allow for low energy consumption in making a new blanket item. The products also provide an innovative solution to the reuse and refurbish process for any existing/new material. The production process can be done manually by the involving the people on the street.

What inspired this idea?

Human Centered Design and the Circular Design Guide are the biggest inspiration behind this product. The need to reach out to society and help it evolve, by providing a sustainable economy and taking away the notion of "life-span" of the product, brought this design to life.

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

I am a mechanical engineer and work as a researcher for Autonomous Driving technologies. I am passionate about Human Centered Design and its use in creating better technologies. I love to interact with people and share new ideas.

In what city are you located?

Ann Arbor, MI

In what country are you located?


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

Becoming one of the Top Idea would allow this product to come to life as a prototype. Depending on the amount of grind material that would be given for prototyping, I plan to make and use the blanket myself first. This will also give me a chance to present the prototype to one person at a time (would try to rotate it between 4-5 people), who would provide useful feedback on usability. This human centered approach will allow the concept to adapt and scale towards the real world requirements.

Attachments (1)


Original Idea: All of your bedding at home, reimagined using fully recycled material which can be easily refurbished/reused by you!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jessica YOGO

Aakar Mehra  super cool idea. It seems that weight and cost of elaboration would be critical issues. I wonder if you could quilt with the fluff?? What fabric were you thinking?

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Jessica YOGO ,
Thanks for your feedback! I agree that the weight and cost will be a critical factors. Based on my design, the most used material will be Fluff, so the weight of it should not be too much. Although there are places where we need foam and rubber for some cushion, so keeping that limited will be an important aspect of the prototyping phase.
For the fabric on the inside, I was thinking of using the Nike Apparel Grind and on the outside something similar to what the Empowerment Coat project is using. The outer layer has to tough and weather proof.

Photo of Jessica YOGO

Hi Aakar Mehra I think that's right! The fluff seems like the easiest stuffing, but that foam would cushion and insulate well. Luckily there are high quality materials to work with. Would be fun to see what you come up with!

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Aakar Mehra ,

Great to see you in the Challenge, and with a robust initial concept! I'm curious, how would the raw materials need to be processed to align with your design? I would also love to see sketches of the designs you are exploring.

Attaching the Materials List if you're curious about more information on the specific materials you would be incorporating:

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Lauren Ito ,
Thanks for your feedback. I will be providing some more sketches in a day or two for some design details. I tried to explain the use of each material in a little bit of details under the question: "How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?" I will try to elaborate a little more with some sketches. Along with that I will also try to answer your question regarding the processing of the raw materials.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Aakar Mehra ,

Great to see the sketches! I'm curious to hear some of the insights from your interviews and how those insights or needs are being designed for in your product. Tagging in two individuals who it may be helpful to connect with and provide feedback on one another's ideas, Marco Angeles and @DeletedUser .

What might be some barriers to implementation? To support your thinking in business model, I'm including this resource.

Feel free to upload the business model canvas sketch to your idea as well!

Excited to learn more!

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Lauren Ito , thanks again for you feedback and important questions that make me think in so many different perspectives. I am planning to conduct a few more interview to create a more robust product pitch, with their feedback integrated in to the design. I will include that and a business model in my idea brief soon.

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Lauren Ito , Anne-Laure Fayard and Naman Mandhan ,

I wanted to tag all of you guys to get some feedback on my updated (evolved) design. Based on some feedback and more research, I decided to go with a more specific design. With just a couple of weeks left for the idea phase to finish, it would be good to hear from you what other potential steps I could take to improve the submission.
Thanks, Aakar

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Aakar Mehra thank you for this update. I really like the new iteration and the design. I wonder if you've been able to get feedback from homeless or refugees. I have been spending a bit of time talking with homeless people for a project in the last few weeks (not related to this challenge) and I can see your blanket being used and useful. Yet, I am not sure shelters will be the right partners as, at least in NY, it seems that homeless people avoid shelters. I can see NGOs working with refugees being interested. Did you talk with them? I might have missed it but I wonder who will be producing the blankets? You mentioned creating job opportunities for homeless and refugees. I like this idea very much but I wonder how you are planning to do this. Are you planning to follow the Empowerment Coat model? Sorry for all these questions but hopefully they help. Looking forward to the next iteration!

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Anne-Laure Fayard ,
Thanks for all the questions! I like answering more questions.

Yes, I did speak with some more homeless people around Ann Arbor and Detroit area. The unfortunate thing right now is that I can't provide a useful prototype to test with the grind material. I have not personally visited any shelters but it sounded like the people in Ann Arbor definitely like going there in the winter.
I tried getting in touch with some NGOs that work with refugees but my efforts were in vein. I did not get a reply from them yet. Any contacts you might have would be useful!
I do plan to follow the model from Empowerment Coat. I spoke to someone who worked there (contact that Naman provided) and seemed like this would be the best fit model for such a product. I am still trying to get in touch with them to suggest some sort of partnership in the production process. I feel that it might fit it into their production line smoothly if they would be interested.

Thanks for the feedback/questions. Looking forward for more insight.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thank you Aakar Mehra for these clarifications. Great to hear that you got feedback from some homeless people. I'm curious to know what where their feedback (based on your sketches). Interesting (in a positive way) that the experience of shelters seems different in Ann Arbor than in NY. As for the Empowerment Coat, I think one of my students talked to the same person but from what she understood using the grind would be difficult with their current production model. Yunfang Shi can tell you more. However, you might have a different model in mind. It'd be great because I really like the holistic model that allows you to create also job opportunities. I unfortunately don't have connections with organizations working with refugees but if I come up with one in the near future, I will let you know.

Photo of Yunfang Shi

Hi Aakar Mehra It's great to see that you've got some feedback from some homeless people! I've done a phone call interview with a former The Empowerment Plan Staff. I am happing to share the interview transcript with you.

Photo of Chuck D

Hi Aakar Mehra -- Seeing your iterative process from your mattress/beanbag concept to your Fluffy Blanket concept is compelling. Great to have this process visibility on an engineer at work!

Looks like the beginnings of a Toms shoes purchasing model in your Target Market section. What does your research show in terms of your production cost vs. consumer price for a BuyOne:GiveOne model?

In terms of scale, what can you share about your strategy to manage operating costs for your humanitarian aid supply chain, and for your consumer market supply chain?

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Chuck Dye ! Thanks for your post and questions!
I actually had not thought about the Toms shoes purchasing model in comparison to my idea. I actually spent some time this weekend researching on that idea and your questions. I spoke with someone who worked at a non profit Empowerment Plan and got a general idea of how their overall production and distribution process worked. Based on that research I believe the Buy One - Give One model will probably not work well in this case. The operating costs for a humanitarian aid supply chain is mostly dependent on individual contributions, charitable donations, grants etc. So, I was not thinking of the consumer market or the sales of the product itself as part of the operational cost.
But your questions are making me think towards the next step for this design challenge (which is really helpful), and I will update my idea soon with some more details. I do not believe I have the answers for your questions at this time.

Photo of Chuck D

Also Aakar Mehra -- I'm interested in your insights on my proposals ArtWall interior surfaces for design studios & art classrooms 
and Ciela Plata, 'Sky to Plate' urban rooftop vegetable farming components
Any thoughts to share in comments there?

Photo of Leisa Hirtz

Aakar, brilliant. My first thought was bedding for refugee settlements. Good for you. I wish you all the best. Have you been in touch with UNHCR to share your idea? I've seen only straw mats being distributed and used.

And your ocean cleaning idea also intriguing.

Well done and really the best of luck!

Leisa Hirtz

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Leisa Hirtz , thank you for your comment!
I have not tried to get in touch with UNHCR yet. I would try to contact them to see if I can get some feedback. I was generally thinking of speaking with smaller non profits that might want to start such a product in their production.
I am glad you like the ocean cleaning idea as well!

Photo of Leisa Hirtz

You're welcome Aakar. Best of luck!

Photo of Naman Mandhan

Hi Aakar Mehra !

Great concept, and I appreciate your focus on providing a solution for meeting the needs of the homeless. Some thoughts that emerged while reading through this idea:

1. Would this idea benefit from focusing on one specific use case? The needs of the homeless might differ significantly from the needs of someone with a roof above their heads, which might differ from a gym owner looking to purchase cushion pads for their bouldering wall. What are some of the constraints that you are working with? What are some limitations in the implementation of your concept that might exist for some markets and not others?

2. Thinking in terms of a broader ecosystem, do you envision this idea to be stand-alone, in terms of how it will be manufactured and distributed? There might be a potential for partnerships with companies that can incorporate this into their manufacturing lines, or with non-profits who might serve as a platform to provide the homeless with jobs in order to manufacture these mattresses for the homeless/refugees.

3. Do you have any thoughts on how the comfort and durability levels of these mattresses might be tested? It might be interesting to visit an IKEA store and talk to their employees about how the mattresses are tested, or observe one of their products going through testing at the store. Also, IKEA is one of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE100 members, and there might be a potential to gain feedback/establish partnerships there as well.

Excited to see the evolution of this concept!

Photo of Lauren Ito

Love seeing these questions Naman Mandhan !! Especially consideration of the ecosystem. Looking forward to seeing you two connecting!

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Naman Mandhan , Thanks for the detailed feedback and insightful questions!
1. I think your first question is very similar to what Anne-Laure suggested in her feedback. Since then I have been trying to focus my work on one product and will be updating my idea soon.
2. The question about the broader ecosystem is one that I started thinking about in the past couple of days since the OpenIDEO's webinar with Nike. I believe as I evolve my idea into the focused product, it will be based on the concept of integrating it into a already existing production line. Your suggestion of giving jobs to the homeless people to actually help make the product is also very interesting and has a lot of potential. I think partnering with some NGO or Non profit might help me develop the idea into the manufacturing and production phase. I have been trying to reach out to some organizations, but unfortunately have not heard back from anyone yet.
3. I will tag you here again once I have updated my concept.

I am currently not in a position to start a venture on my own, but would love to connect and partner with organizations who can help me move this idea forward.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi, really nice concept! I like the way you were able to consider multiple products (mattress, pillow, etc.). I wonder if you had an idea on which one you would focus on. I'm also curious to know about what you learnt during your interviews. Did you ask people about their perception of having recycled materials in their bedding? One of my students Tabea did a couple of interviews and found interesting insights about the perception people have about what kind of products they would be OK to be made of recycled materials. Looking forward to seeing how this idea evolves.

Photo of Aakar Mehra

Hi Anne-Laure Fayard , Thanks for your comments and questions!
The concept definitely started in my mind as mattresses only, but as I researched towards methods to provide a sustainable and circular use of the materials, I figured that multiple products will allow the users to create a cycle of reuse of the same material from one product to the other. Similarly, Nike would be able to sell the material in larger quantities, if people start to use these in all their soft-cushy furniture. More importantly, for homeless people or in refugee camps, we would be able to provide not just mattresses but all other products that would make a little more comfortable.

My question for you is, do you think the idea should be focused on just one product? If yes, then what do you think would be the benefit of that?

My interview process was to understand how many people are comfortable using recycled materials in day to day products. I presented a set of questions about their understanding of recycling/reuse of goods in general and also specific to shoes. The point about using shoe Grind to make some personal item did come up in every conversation, but the trend showed that they were comfortable as long as it did not smell or they weren't directly in contact with it. It is also important to show the users how the grinding process and potentially cleaning process is done before they get the material.
I also presented them with 6 different ideas that I had for this project along with the list of material used. This was the one of idea that really connected with them as it is commonly used item and can be modified easily for their use.
Would like to hear Tabea 's interview insights as well.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Aakar Mehra thank you for the extra information. Good question regarding the focus vs. breadth of products line. I don't have a definite answer. I can see how in the long term having a whole line makes sense but reading your idea, I have to admit that I felt you went from mattresses to multiple products and then back to mattresses and then to multiple products again. The advantage of focusing on one is that you could get more specific user feedback. I also feel that mattresses and possibly pillows might require more testing in terms of comfort than a bean bag for example. The issue of smell or just using recycled shoes might be more of an issue when it comes to bedding than a cushion or bean bag. Maybe keeping the theme of bedding to start would allow you to test assumptions in a more relevant fashion.
I also think that also targeting specific / extreme users like refugees and homeless people is really meaningful.
Great to hear the insights you gathered. From what Tabea shared with me (she did 2 with a similar focus as yours), smell did not come and there were variations on the perception had about using recycled shoes. One person felt somewhat uncomfortable while another did not seem to have an issue with that.
Looking forward to seeing how this evolves!

Photo of Tabea

Hi Aakar Mehra, sorry for my late answer. As Anne-Laure Fayard already explained, I did 2 interviews and asked the interviewees to tell me for several products whether they would like them to be made out of Nike Grind. I also included a matress as one of the products and both interviewees said they wouldn't mind it to be made out of Nike Grind. One of the interviewees was mostly concerned that the products might have a lower quality if they are made out of recycled materials. The other interviewee voiced some concerns about the hygiene, but mostly for products like a toothbrush or contact lenses, not for the matress. Also, the interviews showed that it might be good to be clear about the fact that a product is made out of recycled materials, as some consumers would prefer to buy recycled products, while others might be upset if they find out a product is made out of recycled materials after they have already been using it.