Using design to create new life and to sustain growth

COANIQUEM is a children’s burn clinic in Chile. Over a 38 history, their motto of “free, high-quality care, delivered with love” has treated over 100,000 pediatric burn victims at no cost.

In 1994, the organization pioneered a recycling program in Chile - the first ever in the country, establishing its role as a sustainability-minded brand. Today, COANIQUEM is introducing thrift stores to Chile.

To date, 9 stores have opened with over 50 more planned. Our role in this endeavor has been to aid in developing the system that runs this network of stores and which supports the volunteers that make it possible.

This project was done in collaboration with Miranda Lapour & Yixuan Liu as a part of the "Safe Niños" collaboration between Designmatters @ArtCenter & COANIQUEM.

All photography by Yixuan Liu.





Initiating a recycling revolution in Chile by showing people what thrift is. Giving a second life to clothes & home goods to add a step of reuse in their lifecycle.

Learning what motivates a network of volunteers & using design to create an inclusive company culture that supports them at every step of the way.

Creating a system that can grow with time, promoting recycled goods & ultimately supporting the healing journey of children at COANIQUEM pediatric burn clinics.

How might we use systematic design to expand charity thrift stores across Chile?


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the chilean heart
Our experience designing with COANIQUEM necessitated a deep understanding of Chilean culture and of the organization for whom we are working. To this end, we spent 2 weeks living in the COANIQUEM clinic in Santiago, Chile & volunteering at the then 3 stores open across the Santiago region.

While at the stores, we had the opportunity to meet many of the dedicated volunteers helping our cause and to prototype early "design probes" in the existing stores.


our hands
(internal logistics)

our heart
(company culture)

our voice
(external marketing)

Brainstorming with our NGO partner, we identified 3 opportunities for growth that will enable the organization to scale effectively and rapidly.

our hands
(internal logistics)

preparing for rapid growth
With plans for over 50 stores by the end of 2018, our primary goal has been setting COANIQUEM up with a system to manage the influx of donations received at the stores as well as to manage the nation-wide network of volunteers who make the system run. We aim to be the red thread that connects the designed experiences in the stores with the systems that run them.

a system that scales
Each element used in COANIQUEM sorting rooms is designed to work around the constraints of the varying spaces available in each store location. Despite differences in size, the facilities all feature the same flow, system & fixtures.

Inspired by insights from research trips to Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other stores, the new COANIQUEM store sorting rooms are divided between hard & soft good sections and are designed to be a friendly and open space for volunteers to spend time.

microstore sorting room



"heart-center"  facility

                   sort                                                  price                                      place                                 sell

Everything from the clothing racks to the sorting tables work around human proportions that allow for a unit of clothing to be carried easily by one volunteer. One way we made this even easier on COANIQUEM and its volunteers is by designing a rack that follows each unit of clothing from the sort all the way to finding a second life on the floor of the store.

clothing bar designed to transfer clothes - even up stairs
(solving a major current problem)

the sorting table

Designed around the needs of the volunteer, the resources of the fabricator & the materials sustainably available in the region. The new sorting table features an array of tools built-in that revolutionize thrifted clothing sorting.

Clothes are sized by simply holding them up to a graphic on the table surface. Size markers are kept in the utility channel at the front of the table.

the brik-a-racks
One of the main types of donations that COANIQUEM receives and sells is homegoods, known in thrift culture as "brik-a-brack".  To solve for this, we developed a simply-constructed rack system that categorizes, labels and prepares hard goods to be brought onto the floor and given a new life.

                        hard goods                                                                        soft goods



tools for coaniquem

Because COANIQUEM red has so many elements, handing our ideas over to our partner NGO became a project in its own right.

As an answer to this, we wanted to give COANIQUEM tools to support them as they grow. Chief among these are a series of “playbooks” that feature a series of guidelines to keep in mind when opening a new store, dealing with everything from dimensioned plans for the fixtures in the sorting rooms to volunteer recruitment tools for each of several types of volunteers needed in the stores. 

We also constructed a “build-a-sorting room” tool which pairs with translucent prints of new store floorpans to help plan out a sorting room with the guidelines featured in the “playbooks”. 

(Left: "Build-a-sorting room" tool)

"As a designer, I appreciate smart things. This tool is invaluable to me because it will help me work smarter."

Macarena Mujica, Director of COANIQUEM Tienda Solidaria 

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our heart
(company culture)

¿Que es la solidaridad?  What is solidarity? 

Video produced by Yixuan Liu.

more to come