Unshattered - ending the addiction relapse cycle
Unshattered is a non-profit social enterprise that proves it's possible to survive and thrive after addiction by providing pathways toward economic independence and sustained sobriety.
They save 3000+ lbs of premium fabrics and industrial textiles from landfills every year. They use these reclaimed materials to create unique, handcrafted handbags and accessories, all while making a difference for our planet... and the women on it.
Upcycled materials include leather from SouthWest Airlines seats, vintage material from Mercedes-Benz, old uniforms from US Military.
After studying the journeys of women in recovery, founder Kelly Lyndgaard realized that a pathway to economic recovery is just as essential as the physical and psychological healing from addiction. Even with the strongest desires to stay sober, individuals who complete recovery programs yet lack job skills and/or sufficient education are highly likely to return to the community where they were previously using and relapse.
Unshattered does more than just offer jobs. They are a community of like-minded women, who are expressing their value and purpose through work, and are committed to ongoing personal and professional development. Employees spend 10% of their paid hours receiving personal and professional education to help them grow and thrive.
Each Unshattered handbag and accessory is unique and each has a story, like the women who make them. These bags change the lives of the women who craft them, they deliver hope to those who carry them. The brand is a message that healing is possible for us all.
Founder Kelly Lyndgaard tells her story:
There was a time when I was judgmental toward those struggling with addiction. Because I had no close contact with the pain and trauma that I now know comes with addiction, I assumed people were just irresponsible and making bad choices. It sounds harsh, but as I had worked hard to get to my place in life - a physicist and engineer for IBM managing a Profit & Loss worth $1.1 billion dollars - I had high expectations of those around me.
Back in 2015, had I known the discussion topic at my church that day was about recovery from addictions, I might not have attended. Emily's story shocked me. She came from a broken home, her mother had poor health and a 15 year old neighbour thought it would be funny to get an 8-year old high. This early start into substance abuse led to 15 years of addiction and homelessness. Drugs and alcohol become a way to numb the unrelenting pain of existence. I felt a powerful need to know more.
Volunteering opened my eyes. When I was introduced to the Hoving Home, a year-long residential addiction treatment center, I started meeting women who were doing emotional labour that I never had to do in my life. I was awed by their strength. I wanted to help. I am a maker by nature. It occurred to me that I could teach the women to make bags out of recycled materials, the way I had made a bag out of my grandfather’s coat as a way to remember him.
I was unprepared for the impact the act of making something beautiful, and having someone pick it up and admire it, would have on these women. How something lit up inside them. They were radiant. I could see the power being creative offers. We set up a workshop on the Hoving Home campus and started a project making bags out of upcycled materials.
Teaching women to sew and make beautiful bags was good, as far as it went. Residential treatment is incredible, but after it, women without education, job skills, or a safe community to return to, would relapse and die. I thought at first that helping them get good employment was the solution. But, the reality was we were not solving the problem of a safe community to go back to.
I had begun to realize that there was an interlocking chain of needs that had to be closed in order to solve the long-term problem of addiction relapse. We needed to close the gap on these links; employment, housing, transportation, safe community, purpose or meaning, economic stability.
If I were to put my business skills to work to build something with lasting impact, I would need to change my life as well. It was a calling, deep and somehow inevitable. I felt a stirring, a vision, of a pathway for women to maintain sobriety in the long term. I decided to leave my career and set up a not-for-profit organization in June 2016, setting up in a local business accelerator. Since then we have grown and moved and now need more space again.
Every time a new hire walks in the door, they carry so much shame. They embody the feeling that ‘I’m not capable, this is not possible for me.’ Then there are glimmers of hope. The idea that something is possible. They see it because someone else models it for them. They begin to believe that change and growth are possible for them. Eventually, they become the role model for someone else. Like watching a flower blossom, it is very, very moving.
There’s also a phenomenon in our present premises of people coming and sitting with our team, telling their stories or the addiction struggles of family members. So we’d like to open a café or tea shop, staffed by women in recovery. It would be the same model, but offering employment in different skill sets. We want women to feel creative, valued and gifted, in whatever field they undertake.
So far, within a year, 100% of our women have exited transitional living and are living independently and we’ve seen 100% of our employees continue to choose sobriety.
Lois is one of the employees. She had a lifetime of trauma, beginning in early childhood. Embedded in her personality were feelings of not being good enough. Alcohol was a way to hurt herself more than anyone else could hurt her. Faith in God and the belief that passion and drive will fulfill whatever purpose He has in store caused her to want a fresh start. Lois’ past in the graphic arts also played a role in her decision to join Unshattered. The continued use of her talents brought a renewed confidence and sense of trust in her abilities that has allowed her to create some amazing work.
In the summer of 2021, Lois was able to go on a mission trip to El Salvador. She spent time in San Vicente providing medical aid in neighbourhoods that couldn’t afford it themselves alongside doctors, paediatricians, dentists, and medical students. She went on this trip with her church, a place where she has found peace and hope. Lois not only helped the people in San Vicente, but also learned a lot about herself and all that she can do for others.
Looking ahead towards the future, Lois hopes to one day have a children’s ministry and animal refuge in Costa Rica. It’s been her ambition for a long time to be able to help both children and animals - her mission trip to San Vicente only encouraged her dream. Lois is currently putting out feelers for an internship at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
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Geoff Knott, 27/04/2022