Sometimes all a person needs is someone to believe in them – someone who can restore hope while offering love, empathy, and compassion. It also helps when that person has a strategic plan and some solid resources.
This is what inspired Dutchess County resident Kelly Lyndgaard to shift career paths and create Unshattered – a 501c3 nonprofit organization that employs women who are winning their fight against addiction. The Hopewell Junction-based organization’s employees create premium sustainable handbags that aim to end the cycle of addiction relapse.
Trained as a physicist and engineer, Lyndgaard had no intention of leaving her IT role at IBM until she attended a weekly church service at Valley Christian Church in Hopewell Junction. It was there that she heard Emily’s story.
Emily’s inspiring story
Emily, who at the time was in recovery at Hoving Home – a faith-based, non-profit organization that serves women with drug addiction – stood in front of the congregation and unabashedly shared her story about her lifelong struggle with addiction – a journey that started when she was only eight-years old.
Rather than spending her days playing with dolls, riding her bike, and being carefree, Emily had lots of responsibilities to attend to. Since her mother was ill and Emily hailed from a broken home, she had to take care of herself and her ailing mother. One day, a friend’s teenage brother offered Emily some marijuana.
Although the teen thought it would be amusing to witness a child getting high, his experiment set Emily on a dark path of addiction. Within a decade, Emily was addicted to drugs and homeless.
“Hearing Emily’s story changed my judgmental perspective on addiction. I started to understand that the story of addiction is always paired with significant pain and frequent trauma,” says Kelly Lyndgaard, founder and CEO of Unshattered. This is what prompted her to create Unshattered, which was incorporated in 2016.
In the bag
Lyndgaard has always recognized opportunity in things that others overlooked. “I love repurposing things that can be put together in new ways such as my grandfather’s suede coat, which hung in my closet for years,” says Lyndgaard. That was until this visionary disassembled the coat and used the suede pieces to fashion a handbag.
Years later, she’s still the force behind the bag – ones that change lives while offering fashion and function. “My initial vision was to train these women, so they could develop job skills that would help them build sustainability, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this plan wouldn’t work,” says Lyndgaard. Without a car and enough rent money to carry them for a month or two, these women would still have no choice but to return to their previous lives. Through Unshattered, Lyndgaard offered these women community, employment, a sense of purpose, emotional support, and personal development.
At Unshattered, women like Emily develop the necessary job skills to create these stylish, sustainable bags, which are crafted from upcycled materials. Every year, Unshattered recovers 3,000 pounds of disregarded materials from the Hudson Valley. Much like the women who create them, the materials are transformed into coveted treasures. The bags are made from retired military uniforms, scraps from product manufacturing, and even discarded sets and backdrops from Broadway shows – many of which are painted in the Hudson Valley.
Unshattered’s collection includes everything from totes to zipper-top styles, small travel bags and accessories, backpacks, diaper bags, and bags for men. Some are custom-made from family heirlooms. Custom designs include a family member’s flannel shirt that was repurposed into a diaper bag. Bags have also been fashioned from wedding gowns, sports uniforms, and even Scottish kilts. Prices on the collection range from $20 to $450. The bags with loftier price tags are part of a collaboration with Tory Leather Co. in Pennsylvania. They are crafted from leather and cork.
One-hundred percent of the purchase price of every bag at Unshattered goes towards creating full-time employment, wages, and benefits including healthcare, paid vacation, vision/dental, and pensions depending on the employee’s level. Each purchase helps Unshattered fulfill its mission to end relapse by providing pathways toward economic independence and sustained sobriety.
In New York, Unshattered bags are available at Unshattered’s boutique in Hopewell Junction and online at unshattered.org/collections. Other retail venues include Bliss Co-op in Sugar Loaf; Bliss Boutique in Goshen; Helendale Medical Spa in Rochester; Hudson Square Boutique in Hopewell Junction; KC Mercantile in Clinton Corners; West Point Spouses’ Club Gift Shop; Shear Love Salon in Wappingers Falls; and Simplicity Boutique and Vassar College Store at the Juliet – both in Poughkeepsie. In Pennsylvania, Unshattered is available at Clean Slate Goods in Kennett Square. The bags are also available at holistichabitatclt.com,
The Hopewell Junction boutique welcomes browsers every Monday through Saturday. Those seeking custom designs can contact Unshattered to schedule an appointment with the design team.
Team of champions
Including Lyndgaard, Unshattered’s team consists of ten employees. “Our employees run the entire business from product design to manufacturing, staffing the boutique, running the back end of the website, and participating in marketing,” says Lyndgaard.
They also hold positions as seamstresses, production managers, office managers, custom design specialists, external collaboration leads, sales leads, procurement leads, and in quality control.
The skills gained run the gamut from sewing to inventory management, project management, photography, business development, team leadership, business management, industry collaboration management, public speaking, and beyond.
During each employee’s 40-hour work week, she receives four hours of paid time for personal and professional development. The curriculum was designed to help women gain independence and economic stability. Learning events teach on a wide range of topics from budgeting to creative writing and managing health. There’s a curriculum that enables staff to earn college degrees, and therapeutic counseling, which is paid for by Unshattered, occurs during work hours.
Unshattered’s operation transforms lives. Unshattered boasts a zero percent relapse rate for the women employed within the company. “Our staff maintains sobriety and overcomes enormous odds to achieve favorable outcomes,” says Lyndgaard.
In the nearly five years that Unshattered provided full-time employment for women in recovery, one hundred percent of its women chose sobriety. Lyndgaard is happy to report that within 12 months of starting employment, every team member has moved out of transitional housing.
Lyndgaard mentions that one team member is currently earning her college degree and is the first in her family to do so. Several employees spoke at the White House and at Senator Sue Serino’s Town Hall meeting. Beyond these accomplishments, Lyndgaard has witnessed women get their children back, purchase cars, and beyond.
In recent months, Unshattered’s warrior women have segued into another product category. “When the world shut down due to COVID, Unshattered was considered a non-essential employer. I knew how critical it was to keep our team employed, so we pivoted and began making masks,” says Lyndgaard.
Unshattered remained committed to paying its employees their full wages while donating every mask made for nearly four months. Through the support of the community, Unshattered managed to keep its team employed. Approximately 9,000 masks were donated to 242 local caregiving agencies.
Lyndgaard and her team have received lots of recognition and accolades, and have been invited to offer some inspiration and education through speaking engagements.
“The White House recognized our creative and effective work in fighting the opioid crisis. We were honored alongside Facebook, Amazon, Google, and the American Red Cross and several other large corporations,” concludes Lyndgaard. In 2018, the Think Dutchess Alliance for Business awarded Unshattered NonProfit of the Year. •
To learn more about Unshattered Boutique, you can visit them at 1064 Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, NY, or call them at (845) 867-6999.