NoBorders Backpack

A waterproof dinghy-to-backpack to be handed out to refugees for their long journey through Europe.


by Stefanos Levidis

We are a design collective named ‘Embassy for the Displaced’. Operating between London, Athens and Lesvos island, we design within -and for- the refugee crisis that unfolds all the way from Afghanistan, through the Middle East and Greece, into western Europe. We approach design as a social necessity and a tool not only towards survival, but also towards dignity.

NoBorders Backpack is our main project. Using nothing but materials sourced along the coasts of Lesvos island, NE Greece, a 50-60lt waterproof backpack was designed and built to be handed out to refugees for their long journey through Europe.

The rubber comes from the dinghies that make the perilous crossing from Turkey to Greece, while the straps, clips and shoulder cushions are scavenged from discarded life vests. The Backpack is large enough to fit a few pairs of winter clothes, blankets and a sleeping bag, while it is easily sewn together out of a few rubber pieces. One dinghy can produce about 20 bags. It was designed in Athens by the design collective ‘Embassy for the Displaced’ along with bag manufacturer ‘Three Legs and a Model’. The production will be kindly hosted at the PIKPA self-organised refugee camp in Mytilene, Lesvos.

As rubber dinghies arrive on the coast of Lesvos island, Greece, a huge amount of debris is accumulating on the shores. Piles of life vests and remains of boats are left upon arrival. Many end up in the sea, or get buried in the sand to be discovered by future archaeologists, a testimony to this tragic journey, as well as an environmental liability for the island. At the same time, refugees have enough dry clothes, blankets and sleeping bags, but are underequipped when it comes to waterproof bags that can fit their few belongings and will last them through the journey. Using the rubber that comes from the dinghies to make waterproof backpacks and other survival tools tackles both problems at once.

The Embassy for the Displaced is looking for design-for-survival solutions to the refugee crisis that is unfolding in the Greek islands, all the way to western Europe, starting from backpacks and other accessories designed to respond to the particular necessities of the refugees in their journey.

If governments do not wish to assist these people in their quest for safety, then citizens, be it lifeguards, volunteers, or designers, should at least try.

The people to execute the project are already in place, what we are missing is funds for infrastructure. We are seeking your help to establish a small production line on the island of Lesvos. The first £10000 will be used for purchasing three professional sewing machines, along with the few materials that we can’t source from boats or life vests, such as thread and elastic cord. Local volunteers involved in making the bags will be awarded a monthly pay, while we hope to use any additional donations to fund our research lab, in order to be able to visit the island regularly and to continue producing prototypes of new design ideas. £10 are sufficient to fund the production of one bag. Approximately 1000 people make it to Lesvos daily during the winter, a number that is expected to rise exponentially during the summer months, and we are hoping to provide as many as we can with Backpacks.

We need your support in order to keep providing displaced people with free, high-resilience backpacks for their difficult journey.


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