We get asked a lot about our origin story..... The only way to properly share that, is through the voice of our founder, Cora Lee Poole.
How did we get here?
The year was 2007 and I was a full-time student at the Art Institute of Portland, working on earning my BFA in Apparel Design. I was 25 years old, had already worked my way up the ladder in the restaurant industry from a host at the age of 17, to being the youngest manager the company had ever seen at 22. On paper, I had already done so much. But I was unhappy and decided that I wanted to invest in my future. So, back to school I went.
My 25-year-old self sat in the sewing room, amongst my educational peers, and had an overwhelming sense of, "what the f*ck am I doing here"? I was aghast at the sheer amount of waste we were producing in this room. I looked at a dear friend, and blurted out, "I want to start a nonprofit where I can teach survivors how to thrift and alter clothing for themselves and their children!" Where did this idea stem from? Why was I so passionate about it? Why did I feel so connected to this idea?
Well, that idea that was first imagined, now 15 years ago, was one that had to get stuffed away (like so many other things, it turns out) because I was about to be under the weight of $125k of student loan debt. GET TO WORK was all I could do. So, far away went this idea.... And far away it stayed until about 2017 (I'll tell you about that resurrection in a bit).
Back to those questions.. Where did this desire to work with survivors come from? Why did it feel like my cosmic mission on that day in a sewing studio? To answer that, we have to go back almost my entire lifetime, and that wasn't something I was ready to do until, well, I was ready. I have now been ready for a few years. Ready to talk about my own story. Ready to not feel ashamed of my experiences. Ready to stand in the truth of my story. It has taken a whole lot of work with countless hours of therapy...
I am a survivor. The details of my experience will not be shared here.... As the details are not relevant to this story. What is relevant is that harm was inflicted upon me without consent. I will echo this to all survivors: You DO NOT have to share the details of your experience with everyone. As survivors, it is our prerogative with whom we share our stories with and to what depth. Don’t let anyone force you into sharing things you are not ready or comfortable sharing.
I digress (for important reasons). What is relevant is that I have survived abuse that occurred when I was young. It took me so many years to face this. In fact, I blocked it out of my mind for many years entirely. I had no clue how the experiences of my abuse would affect the way I moved through the world. I would find myself head over heels in love with an emotionally and mentally abusive partner in my early 20s, unable to see what was happening. I would navigate life with a suit of armor, rarely allowing others to see where my vulnerabilities were (I still wear that armor sometimes, btw). Simultaneously, I would carve out who I wanted to be in this world. I would find my authentic self. I would connect with my culture, my community, and my ancestors. I would pick up skills along the way.
Before I started seeing a professional, I used my hands to create. Beadwork was my first therapist. Sewing was my second therapist. Designing was my third, drawing my fourth, and building my fifth….. Time spent with these tools over years allowed me the space and safety I needed. They were a gift.
In 2014 I came to a place where I knew I was ready to talk with a professional. I “interviewed” 3 therapists…. There was one week that I saw all 3. It was not easy to start my story over with each of them…. The third interview was the one I hired. Yes, this is how I talk about finding a therapist…. They must be the right fit, just like hiring a new team member. Just because they have the skills, does not mean that you will work well together. I found mine.
Meanwhile, in my professional life as a designer, I had the privilege to travel the world. At least twice a year, I would make the trek to Asia, sometimes visiting 3 countries on each trip. I did this for 10 years. Every trip I made; I saw this little problem of waste from a college sewing studio on a macro scale. Every trip it got harder and harder to unsee. Simultaneously, I was observing and experiencing racism, sexism, ableism, and more in the corporate space – In the United States. I would fight the fights, raise my hand and my voice, offer my expertise as an indigenous woman, and watch and feel as nothing changed. Everything around me was performative. It was heavy and I felt like there was nothing I could do.
And then it happened. An idea from 2007 left the dark recesses of my mind and leapt to the front in 2017! Except it was different. It was bigger. It was more impactful. And it was scary as sh*t! Ten years of this idea, organically growing and evolving. All I could do was sit and let it all out one night after another disappointing day at work, filling an 18”x24” piece of drawing paper.
What came out was the groundwork of what Undestructable could and would become.
Was what came out that night truly 10 years of independent and organic evolution of a concept? Or was it the product of all my experiences and all my self-work finally connecting with my entire being and having nowhere left to go but out? The birth of Undestructable was no longer just of my mind. It was of my heart, my body, and my soul as well.
I tell people all the time that Undestructable is a product of all my lived experiences because it is.
First, I was a survivor.
Then, I became a feminist.
Then, I became a creative.
And now, I am a founder. And, so much more.
It is not only possible, but highly probable, that the story of my life was dictated by something that was done TO me…. And that everything since has been in response or reaction to that experience.
I needed help. So, I learned how to advocate for myself and others whose voices were not being heard. I found my voice in doing so.
I needed help. So, I picked up creative skills to give me an avenue to cope and process. I found many of my talents in doing so.
I found help. So, I left my senior design role and started a nonprofit to be a resource to other survivors. I found my purpose in doing so. I found help in my beadwork, at powwows, in community, in culture, in sewing, in designing, in drawing, in building, in therapy, and in myself.
Of course, I am so much more than these four things. I have seen and experienced far too much in my life to only be these four things. But, these four things are what make me extraordinary in this space and I intend to use them in all of their potential.
I am Undestructable.