Meet Cora, the founder and brains behind Undestructable, a non-profit organization working with survivors of Intimate Partner Violence on their journey to financial independence from their perpetrators through an employment program that not only empowers her with an income, life & job skills, but also promotes healing and the rediscovery of her innate self-worth by creating sustainable products made from post-consumer waste. Her motto is: “ReClaimed. ReImagined. ReBuilt. We are UNDESTRUCTABLE.”
Cora also loves creating and drawing as well as spending time with strangers and hearing their stories. And Guess what? She’s also a SwellWomen El Salvador and Rote Island Alumni. She’s had some epic times in the surf and met some outstanding women on her trips! Get to know Cora and the story behind Undestructable in her SwellWomen Business spotlight below. Visit also her website to learn more about the organization and to donate to this cause, visit her personal fundraising page.
What’s the story behind you and your business?
Undestructable is a startup nonprofit that gained it’s 501(c)(3) status this year. But it is a seed that was planted about 15 years ago as I sat in a sewing room while working on my BFA in apparel design at the age of 25. I vividly remember sitting in that room, looking around at the amount of waste that was overflowing from waste baskets, and thinking to myself, ‘this is a problem!’. The thought that followed immediately after was the very beginning of what is now Undestructable. I knew that I wanted to work with survivors of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) by teaching them how to thrift and alter clothing for themselves and their children (if applicable). As women, it is so important that we feel good as it is directly connected to how we perform in the world. This is even more important when we have survived trauma.
Fast forward a few years, I am out of school and have a heaping student loan debt. I had to get to work, and this little seed was pushed to the back of my mind. I spent 3 years teaching at The Portland Fashion Institute (formerly Portland Sewing), entered into the industry as an apparel designer and developer at Merrell, and then moving on to be a senior apparel designer at adidas. I was blessed to have the opportunity to grow & learn and to travel the world. But in these travels, I also saw things that I can never unsee. I saw the same thing from my college sewing room on a much greater scale. I learned that the apparel and footwear industry is the second leading cause of waste next to oil. I learned that bi-product in dye processes often goes back into groundwater. You can’t unlearn these things. These things stay with you. But in the back of my mind was still this seed. And as it sat there, it evolved. Big time.
After 6 ½ years with adidas and a number of very disconcerting experiences, I realized that this little seed had not only grown and evolved, it had also spread roots. I realized this was something I could no longer push aside. So, I let it out. I sat down and mind mapped all the ideas that had naturally formed. And this is what came out:
Undestructable needed to be a sustainable organization, a community that works with survivors of IPV in a holistic way and simultaneously reduces society’s carbon footprint. It needed to bridge the gap between intervention and prevention. It needed to be a vehicle for sustainability around people and things. It needed to be something that didn’t exist yet. And I was up to take that journey. So, I left adidas to forge this path.
Scariest thing I have ever done. Also, the most certain and determined I have ever been in my life!
Let me tell you about Undestructable. The nuts and bolts of what we will be doing and why.
First, I want to dig into the survivor side of Undestructable. Did you know that more than 1 in 3 women (37%) report experiencing physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner? Or that almost half (47%) of women have experienced psychological aggression? Furthermore, 99% of survivors experience financial abuse in combination with other forms of violence. IPV is a non-discriminating epidemic in our nation that touches women of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds and has drastically increased under the current administration and during quarantine. These numbers are terrifying and only reflect incidents that have been reported! What?!
Ok. So, this is something we can help solve, right?! We have to be a resource for survivors on their journey to financial independence. We need to employ these women. We need to teach them job skills, help them build their resumes, the power in wordsmithing, and how to search and apply for jobs. Great! We can do this in a 6-9 month employment program! This is not a model or concept that is new, but we know that it is not only powerful, it is proven to work! Survivors who have experienced financial abuse may not have their own bank account, may lack credit history, and may not have work history to go out and land a job that could mean the difference in being homeless or not. She needs a community of women and resources to rebuild the future she dreams of. We can do that!
Survivors of IPV, now more than ever, deserve a space where they can learn skill sets including craftswomanship in many forms, retail, visual merchandising, POS, and customer relations that can be translated into future job opportunities within the community and beyond. Skill sets that will help them work through the trauma they have sustained and rebuild their self-worth.
What about the trauma, though? Survivors of IPV have seen the darkest days. And, after a survivor is free from their perpetrator, there is still so much more work to be done. Trauma does not simply go away as our society pretends. Trauma healing is not a lateral process and is a life-long journey.
Enter the piece that reduces our carbon footprint. Enter the piece that does this while simultaneously giving survivors a way to process trauma. Enter the piece that facilitates the reclaiming of her innate self-worth while she reclaims and breathes new life into items society tossed aside.
Sustainable products made from post-consumer waste. This is where Undestructable stands out from the rest. This is where the magic really happens. This is the work I am so excited to share with the world! This is where my strengths collide. I have been a teacher since the day I was legally allowed to work, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life regardless of the subject or venue. I have spent my adult life dedicated to fighting, not only, post-consumer waste but also working within systems in order to reduce pre-consumer waste.
US consumerist society lends itself to massive amounts of goods being discarded annually. There are many household goods and articles of clothing (amongst other things) that are thrown out daily and take years to break down, if they ever do, that can be diverted from landfills. Approximately 70-80lbs of clothing and footwear are discarded by every American each year and that number is growing in a world of fast fashion. Consider that every year in the US alone, 1 million acres of our planet’s trees are destroyed to manufacture and produce the wooden pallets used to operate the distribution industry and 54% of which are used for only one shipment, and then either stored, burned or thrown away. Disgusting.
I get so infuriated with this knowledge. And these are just two areas that are major contributors to landfills and climate change.
So, imagine a beautifully crafted set of end tables made from reclaimed building supplies, or wall shelves, or clocks, or even candle holders. Imagine a wallet, or pillows, or reupholstered chairs made from a pair of jeans destined for the landfill. My idea bank is limitless and my will is unshakeable.
To say that Undestructable was born solely with the hope of helping survivors or solely around sustainable products would be a gross inaccuracy. One is not exclusive from the other within Undestructable. There are far too many parallels. The concept that all things are disposable in our country spans from hard goods to human beings. THIS. NEEDS. TO. CHANGE.
Why does this matter to me? Because I am a survivor. I am a maker, a designer, and I have hope for a brighter and more sustainable future.
We are at a crucial phase in our startup where we need to raise funds to purchase equipment, machines and tools to get survivors making and creating while we pay them a livable wage. For example, in order to pay 2 survivors $15/hr for 2 months full time work we need $9,600. We are currently gearing up for our very first Peer 2 Peer fundraiser centered around Giving Tuesday this year. Our goal is to raise a minimum of $20,000. This amount will give us the opportunity to do the aforementioned. While our needs are far greater than $20,000 we know just how crucial it is to simply begin this work.
What keeps you inspired and gives you bliss?
I have a few things that keep me inspired! One is the act of creating. Creating with my hands, more specifically. I find meditative space in drawing. I usually go to my easel when something big sits in front of me, a problem I can’t quite see how to solve, or a decision I need to reach. I will lose time in this space. Hours. My mind really is able to process in the background while I am creating a charcoal drawing. It is rare that I emerge from my drawing studio without some type of remedy.
I also love spending time with strangers. Having the privilege to hear someone’s story is one that I will never take for granted. I think there is something so sacred in sharing space with an individual whom you have never met. I choose to keep myself open to everyone I cross paths with. You just never know when lightning will strike and your life is forever changed by a chance encounter.
Do you have a favorite travel and/or retreat memory? What was it?
Oh goodness…. Do I have to pick just one? I have been very fortunate to have had a career that took me around the world a number of times! But if I have to pick just one, I think of my time spent with Swell Women in El Salvador just 3 years ago by a couple days. First of all, I met some of the most outstanding women on that trip who I think of as my sisters today. We spent our evenings playing like children in the small break on boogie boards and lovingly named ourselves “The Baywatch Babes”. That in and of itself is epic! ut, while I was there, I had an INCREDIBLY difficult morning in the water. A day that made me want to throw my hands up. And I almost did. When I finally pulled myself together and headed back out, I sat on my board with the sun on my face well beyond the break and away from everyone.
The water is home for me, and I simply needed to be in it’s loving arms. All of a sudden, a school of little fish began jumping all around me. They were nearly see-through! One landed on my board in front of me and it was shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. I scooped it up, released it back into the ocean, took a deep breath and knew the surf was inviting me home. I then rode my best wave of that whole trip! I will carry that memory with me always. These photos are from that moment. Me sulking on the beach and then the wave I caught after.
Here are some of my other favourite memories and photos from my Rote Island trip.
Learn more about her organization at Undestructable.org
Interested in contributing to Cora’s start-up? Here is glimpse of what your donation funds will contribute to:
•$500.00 will employ ONE survivor for 33.3 hours making $15/hr
•$1,000.00 will employ ONE survivor for 66.6 hours making $15/hr
•$2,000.00 will employ ONE survivor for 133.3 hours making $15/hr
•$5,000.00 will employ TWO survivors for 166.6 hours each making $15/hr
•$5,000.00 will purchase : compound miter saw, table saw, orbital sander, drill set, finishing nail gun, 3 identical sewing machines, thread and other notions. Essentially, all the tools to do the work making beautiful products from post-consumer waste!
If you’d like to become a fundraiser or donate, visit the Fundraising page.