Each Unshattered bag has secrets that make them more than a purse.
Many women facing addiction do not end their struggle upon completing their recovery programs. Without job skills, education, economic opportunities, and, most importantly, a safe community, many relapse. Unshattered is changing that.
While volunteering with 365-day residential programs for women recovering from addiction, Kelly Lyndgaard encountered what she describes as “The Day 366 Problem.”
“I would see these women that were talented and capable and committed to their sobriety go home and two weeks later be dead of an overdose,” Lyndgaard says. “I got tired of watching women die.”
That’s what led her to found Unshattered, a company that designs and produces handbags from upcycled fabrics. Staffed entirely by women who are on a journey, Unshattered offers more than just a job. It provides community and personal development alongside employment, giving women the ability to build economic independence and end the addiction-relapse cycle for good.
When women first come to Unshattered, they are often shrouded in shame.
“They don’t want to be known,” Lyndgaard says. “Often as I’m doing intake paperwork, I ask how somebody’s name is spelled. It’s not uncommon that I hear somebody say, ‘it doesn’t matter.’”
Within a few months of working with Unshattered, Lyndgaard witnesses women transform.
“It’s like watching a flower bloom. They discover what they’re capable of. They start to believe in themselves,” she says.”You watch this woman come back to life. They’re completely unstoppable.”
Unshattered bags represent a solution to a common problem
Unshattered aims to solve a familiar issue facing sobriety programs: a lack of clarity around the next steps for long-term sobriety.
Many programs focus on getting someone sober in the short term, but don’t stay with them for the challenges that come afterwards in life. The next step is often unclear. Many newly sober people lack job skills, education, or a safe community to call home. Relapse often leads to an overdose, frequently fatal.
Per the CDC, it’s estimated that greater than 80% of opiate users relapse after going through recovery. According to the CDC, there were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2022.
A safe community and valuable work can be the difference between life and death, meaning a pathway to economic recovery is just as essential as the physical and psychological healing from addiction. By providing employment and job skills training in a community of women with shared experiences, Unshattered cultivates an environment where women grow personally and professionally to reach their full potential.
The Unshattered program starts with a 10-week training period focused on job readiness and personal development, with food, housing, and transportation provided. The women then become full-time employees receiving wages, paid vacation and sick time, therapeutic counseling, vision and dental insurance, and employee discounts, among other benefits. As they grow and are promoted within the organization, they gain access to health care, educational opportunities, and increasing benefits.
It isn’t an accident that Unshattered focuses specifically on women with substance use disorder.
“Statistically, the quickest path to poverty in the U.S. is to be a woman,” Lyndgaard describes. “The leading path is to be a single mom…So, there is a vulnerability of women, first and foremost economically, but also physically in that world of addiction. And there’s not a lot of resources out there, especially when a woman has a child dependent on her, to help her navigate her way up.”
These factors underscore the importance of Unshattered’s work. It’s more than helping women reach sobriety; it’s transforming their lives.
“We use upwards of 3,000 pounds a year of fabric and leather that was headed for the waste stream, that we reclaim and turn into something amazing,” Lyndgaard says. “It’s a metaphor for the lives of the women: something discarded, remade into something beautiful and purposeful.”
While working for Unshattered, women in recovery lead the management, manufacturing, design, sales, quality control, and shipment process, equipping them with independence and professional experiences that are extremely valuable in other industries. Most women stay on staff for around three years, and many use Unshattered as a springboard for their professional dreams. Some have gone into dentistry, pursued higher education, or started working for addiction recovery programs themselves.
The community women find in their work proves to be key to long-term sobriety.
“As my team would say, the drugs and alcohol weren’t the problem; they were the solution to the problem until they became the problem themselves,” Lyndgaard says. “The women aren’t being healed really from just addiction, they’re being healed from pain. Addiction was just a way to deal with that.”
Unshattered helps women recognize the strengths they already had
Unshattered’s focus on the whole person helps women uncover hidden talents within themselves.
The company works hard to instill confidence, which is the platform from which they can pursue the life they want.
“We really focus on what it means to thrive in recovery, to have purpose and to be part of a safe community and to be contributors back to the world around them,” Lyndgaard says.
Consequently, recovery with Unshattered is about the holistic person. Employees spend 10% of their paid hours receiving personal and professional education. This includes professional workshops, therapy, classroom hours towards getting their GED or college education, and meetings with professional mentors.
“It’s really rebuilding the seams of their entire life so they can thrive,” says Lyndgaard.
June 2023 marked the seven-year anniversary of Unshattered’s founding. Since then, there has been only a single employee relapse. Within a year, 100% of Unshattered’s employees have been able to move out of temporary, transitional housing into a home or apartment.
Now the organization is looking to the future by expanding into an expanded location.
“We really want this building to be a healing space. We’re launching a complete renovation of this facility (originally a bar and nightclub most recently used for Cadillac restoration) to design in trauma-informed principles, where it builds community and supports the work that these women are already doing,” Lyndgaard says.
All Unshattered bags carry a secret story
Many women have moved through Unshattered’s doors, and many have gone on to pursue their own paths in life. But those who buy the handbags may not know a secret: they carry a specific name with them every time they wear the bag.
Every bag is named after someone a worker knows who is still struggling with addiction.
“Whoever buys it is carrying the hope that that person finds healing,, like the women on our team have,” Lyndgaard says. “There’s another secret of our bags: a secret message inside the liner from whoever made it. As they make the liner of that bag, they write maybe their number of days of sobriety, song lyrics, something meaningful to them.”
The bags follow the Japanese art tradition of Kintsugi, in which cracked pottery is repaired with gold to indicate something is more beautiful for having been broken. Each bag includes a gold metallic seam to honor this message.
“This points to the philosophy of our work,” Lyndgaard says. “That these stories of addiction and brokenness and trauma are actually the places of beauty and strength, where women can come into the world and show what is possible on the other side of addiction.”