A homeless man, who has been rough sleeping for 8 weeks, sleeps in central London on November 8, … [+]
AFP via Getty Images
Last year, the tech for social good sector was worth £2.3 billion [$2.9 billion], with a turnover of £732 million [$952 million].
“There’s a huge potential for tech to solve social issues,” says Varun Bhanot, co-CEO of Unhoused. “Technology can solve those issues at scale, where your neighborhood charity cannot.”
Unhoused is a social impact startup launched to help the homeless and “unhoused.” Bhanot, alongside cofounder Anisha Seth, both 29, launched the company after seeing “innumerable” people sleeping rough in the City of London. Over half the U.K.’s homeless population lives in London, amounting to nearly 170,000 people sleeping rough in the capital.
“There’s lots of startups working on cleantech solutions to solve climate change for example, but social inclusion such as helping those unhoused is really an untapped area where there just aren’t enough tech people working on solutions,” Bhanot says.
Bhanot says Unhoused’s first project, an online shop for the homeless, is a U.K.-first. “We call it the Amazon.com for homeless supplies.”
Any member of the public can visit Unhoused.org and shop for staple clothing, and for every piece bought, one is donated to a member of the homeless community. So far, more than 100,000 items of clothing have been distributed.
A picture or video of the donation in action is then sent to the original purchaser in order to make a “full transparent feedback loop.”
“In this way we are connecting donors directly with the recipients in a way traditional charities have never been able to do,” explains Bhanot, “as well as selling clothing that everyone needs to buy anyway.”
The company’s main product is a clothing range called the Hope Hoodie and Jumper range, using its own proprietary nanotechnology, FreshTech, which they have dubbed the “world’s first self-cleaning hoodie and jumper range.”
Unhoused’s self-cleaning hoodie
The fabric has previously only been used in industrial manufacturing, and took around 18 months of trials to perfect. “It was incredibly difficult,” says Bhanot, “we failed over 50 times before we got the technology right.”
The material is made of 100% polyester, is anti-microbial and proven to reduce the level of growing bacteria by 99.96%. Additionally, instead of sweat being absorbed into the fabric, it beads off the inner surface, meaning minimal odor. The clothing is made using hydrophobic fabric and the secret is all down to chemistry. Dirt particles are picked up by water droplets and are thus easily cleaned off the surface. If a water droplet rolls across such a contaminated surface the adhesion between the dirt particle, irrespective of its chemistry, and the droplet is higher than between the particle and the surface.
The surface is treated with nanoscopic fibers that repel water and other droplets in the same way a lotus leaf does. Liquid will bead and roll off the surface at a 150 degree contact angle without soaking or staining.
“We think this could be a game changer for the homeless as our clothing repels liquids, stains and dirt from its surface, enabling less need for washing and therefore greater sustainability and environmental impact.”
The idea for a self-cleaning clothing range came after Bhanot continually saw a homeless man near his local tube station wearing the same stained clothing: “I started to think, ‘what if his clothing could just not get dirty in the first place?”
Unhoused’s online store
“It’s difficult to help a charitable cause, without looking like just another charity ourselves,” Bhanot says, when discussing the company’s challenges. “We are very much an online tech startup like ASOS or Amazon—we are just born with a social purpose as our key driver.
Bhanot and Seth’s ultimate goal is to be a catalyst in eradicating homelessness, through social business.
“It’s interesting as it’s a solvable challenge by our generation that is within reach with enough innovation and smart thinking.
“We also see our online shop as the first step in a wider mission to utilize breakthrough technologies to revolutionize the homeless crisis.”