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The Love Below

Last week, Toronto-based advertising agency TAXI announced 15 Below, a new project to coincide with TAXI’s fifteenth anniversary that would see the company create, manufacture, and distribute 3,000 coats for homeless people across North America. Designed by TAXI’s executive creative director Steve Mykolyn and designer Lida Baday (pictured), the waterproof, windproof, and plentily-pocketed coat serves as a lightweight jacket during not-too-cold weather, can fold into a backpack during decent weather, and—when you fill the pockets up with newspaper—converts into a super-warm jacket that was tested (in a meat locker, no less!) to be effective up to -29° celsius.
Named 15 Below for the temperature at which the government issues a cold weather alert—and for TAXI’s own fifteen-year anniversary—the company’s good deed is accordingly a mixture of overt philanthropy and subtle promotion. Paul Lavoie, TAXI’s cofounder, chairman, and chief creative officer (phew), encapsulated that attitude perfectly, stating in the company’s press release that “[TAXI's] approach to solving problems––of any sort––has always been to question convention”––one heck of a mission statement, albeit one with some weight behind it (you’ve seen TAXI’s pretty great ads everywhere, from Flow 93.5′s portraits of hip-hop artists made out of dance steps, to Reitmans’ faux model “Designed for Real Life” campaign, to Jerome Iginla’s strength Nike promos). Still, philanthropy is philanthropy, and in a city as plagued by homelessness as ours is, anything helps––especially when it’s something as ingenious as this.
According to TAXI, the coats will be on the streets of Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, and New York at some point during the first quarter of 2008. The agency has yet to firm up distribution details, but they expect to partner with charitable organizations. Hopefully the 15 Below coats will be on the backs of homeless people before the end of this winter. It’s getting a tad chilly out there.
See a few more shots of the jacket (a mockup of its design, and it being tested in that freezing cold meat locker for eight hours by a significantly less happy-looking Mykolyn). You can track 15 Below’s progress on its website.

All images courtesy of TAXI.


  • tcomeau

    Mr Lavoie was interviewed on CBC Newsworld yesterday about this and the questions that should have been asked were:
    1. How do you respond to the comment that this is nothing but a band-aid solution?
    2. How do you respond to the comment that this is a nothing but a clever way to exploit the homeless for your own publicity?
    Homeless people sure have it rough – not only do they have to worry about surviving, but now they’re also the target of do-gooder marketing campaigns.

  • David Topping

    Mykolyn’s interview with Digital Journal does a pretty good job at answering that first question:

    When asked if the all-season coat project was a PR stunt for the ad agency, Mykolyn scoffed at the notion. “We did this so we can give something back. If brand promotion occurs, well, that’s extra, but it was never the intent.” He went on to say that Taxi has always partnered with various humanitarian causes — Taxi’s executives are on the board of directors for international shelter group Covenant House, and the firm has done pro-bono work for organizations like The Humane Society.

    As for the second, I don’t see how an ad agency, without government assistance, can do anything but offer a band-aid solution. A real solution would require homes, food, employment…

  • the goggles do nothing

    Not doing good for the sake of publicity – acceptable.
    Doing good for the sake of publicity – despicable.
    Makes total sense.

  • suzanne12thirteen

    goggles–you are dead on!

  • Mark Ostler

    The governments of Canada (federal, provincial and municipal) have failed our country’s homeless. Now a corporation is doing something to help them. I echo David’s sentiments that TAXI can’t solve Canada’s homelessness problem. However, if they can save lives by helping clothe the homeless, is that not admirable, or at the very least, an extremely positive side effect of an alleged “publicity stunt”?
    I don’t approve of corporation co-opting causes solely for the purposes of promotion, but the fact that TAXI actually designed something that can directly save lives is far more respectable than slapping your name on a fundraising marathon or charity dinner.
    The jacket is something desperately needed to help the homeless across the country. If a government (federal, provincial, local) were to hire a company to design a similar solution to cold weather, would there be the same accusations of “doing good for the sake of publicity”? Do we need the government’s stamp of approval before corporations, or people, try to help others?
    Is it possible that a corporation can do something strictly out of charity?

  • mdtoronto

    This is absolutely a great idea. The nay sayers have it wrong – good on TAXI! Not only will homeless folks be able to stay drier/warmer but the campaign will likely embarass three levels of government who have done nothing about affordable housing, or raising the minumum wage, or increasing social assistance benefits to consider the real cost of living, and improving conditions (i.e. the cost of medication) for people living with disabilities is really a nice bonus!

  • paigesix

    quick then, all you naysayers, you best be getting out there to inform the homeless en masse about how best to turn down the evil jackets.
    also, another target for you when you’re done: that whole west 49 ‘get a discount on a new coat if you donate an old one’ promo.

  • davedave

    I love how people are complaining that Taxi are just doing it for the PR.
    Here’s hoping your Xmas continues to be a sad cynical train wreck.
    The rest of us will applaud this awesome idea.

  • Kristin Foster

    i agree with the non-naysayers
    would it be better if they did nothing? i imagine there will be some people who will benefit a lot from this.

  • tcomeau

    It’s nice how this comment thread has become ad hominem attacks on nay-sayers. I like Googles sarcastic comment, implying something is better than nothing, but I’d prefer it if TAXI wasn’t issuing a press release about it. That alone would make me join the ‘applauders’. Yes, great idea. Fantastic.
    But why do I need to know about it? I mean, why is this on Torontoist? Why was it on the CBC? I find it dismaying how people these days can delude themselves into thinking they’re doing good while being unethical about it.
    If TAXI’s press-release was meant as a type of Kantian ethical call to action, in the sense of saying, ‘hey this is what we did, what can you do?’ and we followed it through by asking, ‘yes, if everyone did something like this, what would happen…’ well, we’d probably have a better world. And if that’s there intention with the publicity, it should be more clear, and than nay-sayers like myself wouldn’t see this as bumvertising.
    Like, what, because they have jackets that can withstand the cold now we won’t have to issue any more cold alerts and open emergency shelter spaces? What’s wrong with the jackets they already have? If this jacket is so great when will I be able to buy one at H&M? Or is it meant to be a stigma: “Ooooh, a 15 Below jacket, You’re a loser.” Anyway … I look forward to seeing my first one being worn by an unfortunate who needs more than a free jacket and being all like, ‘hey it’s a 15 below jacket’ and then I can turn to my walking companion and tell them all about how great TAXI is, and then when I get back to the office I’ll Google their contact info to hire them for my next ad campaign.
    Everybody wins right?
    As for being cynical and deserving a sad Christmas – Christmas was originally about Jesus who taught that you should be anonymous with charity. As for being cynical … well, I don’t mean to be grumpy, but more of a Socratic gadfly. Blogs like this are too often bulletin boards for PR, which by its nature is positive. Some of it needs the occasional bullshit alert.

  • Jonathan Goldsbie

    I like you, Timothy.

  • rattlecan

    Aside from everything else…
    It feels like ad agency work trying so hard to do product design that they forgot the brand part.

  • Squeaker

    Hey, what happens when it rains and all the newspaper gets wet and then it freezes up again like a death popsicle windbreaker?
    Hmmmm, just a thought : )

  • Patrick Metzger

    I think it’s cool that they’re giving homeless people branded uniforms.