Unlocked is a Nashville based social enterprise jewelry company that employs and empowers people transitioning out of homelessness.
Unlocked’s story began when founder Alexis Cook was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in the summer of 2016, right before her junior year at Vanderbilt University. Forced to take a medical leave of absence, she decided to use her newfound free time to wander the streets and befriend people experiencing homelessness. Through those conversations and relationships, she witnessed firsthand the need for employment and the opportunities it could provide. Soon after, Alexis ran into an old friend, Vanderbilt student Corbin Hooker. As they caught up, they immediately recognized their shared interest in using business to solve social issues and began brainstorming ways to provide employment opportunities for those in need. When Alexis was finally able to return to school in the spring of 2017, she and Corbin entered and won a Vanderbilt business pitch contest, giving them a bit of start-up money and a boost of confidence.
As Alexis and Corbin neared graduation, they began considering the company as a post-grad option. Additionally, Alexis would run their ideas past Ray, one of her best friends and a man whom she had met a few years back while volunteering at a local transitional home. He had been homeless for decades before moving into the complex, and they had formed a quasi-grandfather-granddaughter relationship. One evening, Ray called her to tell her he was dying and to meet him at the hospital. There, he told her he had a storage unit with a duffle bag of money. He wanted her to have it when he passed.
After Ray’s passing, Alexis and Corbin cleaned out his storage unit and put the money towards their budding company, making Ray the sole investor. They decided to name the company “Unlocked” to represent unlocking wages and opportunities for people transitioning out of homelessness, unlocking meaningful dialogue and designs for their customers and unlocking Ray’s storage unit.
Unlocked’s mission is to “unlock” opportunities for people to transition out of homelessness. Through the production and sale of jewelry, they create employment opportunities that provide the resources necessary to propel their Makers through their transitional program – called Pathways – and into permanent housing and employment. With the support of a few nonprofit partners, the Pathways program includes transitional housing, job counseling, mental health counseling, financial literacy training and assistance with job placement. Makers in the Pathways program increase their hours worked with Unlocked each month, allowing them to implement their financial training, build savings and increase their financial resources until their earnings fully cover their living expenses. Each Unlocked product is handcrafted by one of their Makers and includes their signature and bio, connecting customers to the impact of their purchases. By combining business and wrap-around services, social enterprise models can more sustainably and effectively empower people to transition out of homelessness.
Alexis discovered SEA through her connection to the widely beloved and respected Jim Schorr, the previous President and CEO of SEA, and her professor and mentor at Vanderbilt. It was a great fit, because since its conception, Unlocked has emphasized collaboration as a way to prioritize effectiveness and sustainability in the resources they provide to their Makers and the way they do business. To this end, they joined SEA to deepen their connections with other social enterprises, finding ways to work together to create meaningful change in Nashville.
To learn more about UNLOCKED, check out their member directory profile.