The number of homeless people in South Africa is constantly on the rise.

More than just a product, Street Sleeper is a social enterprise that upcycles PVC advertising billboards into survival sleeping bags for the homeless, providing protection against the elements at night and doubling as storage backpacks during the day.

Using a combination of ingenuity and clever design, Street Sleeper is working to tackle challenges faced by the homeless.

Oliver Brain is the inventor behind the Street Sleeper bag. His ultimate goal is to raise awareness around homelessness and the economic disenfranchisement that goes with it.

The young man’s heart went out to homeless people struggling without adequate shelter. But while he knew he wanted to help in some way, he realised that it would have to be a sustainable initiative.

Luckily for them, Oliver had his lightbulb moment not long after.

By applying his mind to some of the challenges faced by those sleeping rough, he came up with the perfect material to shield them from the harsh outdoor elements – PVC advertising billboards destined for landfill.

He has since been ‘upcycling’ the discarded materials by transforming it into survival sleeping bags.

The Street Sleeper social enterprise upcycles the PVC advertising billboards into survival sleeping bags that provide protection against the elements at night and double as backpacks during the day. Transforming the negative impact of waste into immediate relief of those living on the street, bundled up in the long-term vision of enabling positive change in their lives.

The wear-resistance and waterproof survival bag, which is long and wider than a normal sleep bag, weighs only 1.9kg. The ample space allows the user to sleep with multiple layers of clothes and you can also store valuables in the bag. It also rolls up into a handy carry bag. The bag features a pillowslip that can be filled with clothes. The pillowslip can also serve as a shield during bag weather

Through a donation of R150, Street Sleeper is able to divert a billboard from landfill and transform one man’s trash into another’s treasured bed.

The brains behind the design is Chawal Wadi, a sewing machine operator from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has been instrumental in transforming the billboard materials into bags.

“The design brief that I set myself in creating the bag, was to create a sustainably-sourced urban survival sleeping bag,” Brain says.

Through understanding the homeless way of life, a few clever adjustments even ensured the bags become much more than just a bed.

Good length enables the sleeper to store his or her belongings at the foot-end while they sleep, while the width allows room for multiple layers like blankets in winter.

A pillow slip at the top end enables more comfort by creating room for clothes or other cushioning.

To top it all off, the bag doubles as a backpack in the day, which becomes a waterproof carrybag for any belongings.

A factor, Brain says, is really important for people who don’t have a place to safely store anything.

Brain says the real magic comes with the distribution.

“It’s here that we want to create a sense of value and a sense of empowerment for people using the bags,” he says.

Volunteer distribution days are held, where members of public or homeless people who work with Street Sleeper help to distribute the bags to other street sleepers.

“It’s great because it creates a sense of community and inclusion in the whole process,” Brain says.

Brain is keen to expand the initiative as widely as possible to other cities and countries, and is open to working with any like-minded people or organisations.

“Street Sleeper is all about collaboration. So we’re not protective over the idea in a sense. We want as many people to have access to these bags as possible.


By gifting a bag for R150, you not only give one homeless person, personal shelter, the impact is felt far wider. The production process creates employment, for homeless people as well as local businesses involved in the bag manufacturing. The Haven Night Shelter in Woodstock, Cape Town is currently the main distributor of Street Sleeper bags.

In addition to producing the survival bags, Street Sleeper also makes lifestyle accessories including wallets, iPad covers and iPhone covers. These items are sold for profit in order to cross-subsidise the non-profit arm of the brand.

It’s really just to raise awareness on some of the issues facing some of the most disadvantaged members of our societies.”

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

1 comment

  1. Fantastic idea – well done! Will this be suitable for the bad weather in the UK? We have numerous rough sleepers and it is also increasing. Can you maybe e-mail me?

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