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Here's How 2 Army Wives Built A Badass, All-American Business
It takes guts to pitch a business idea to an intimidating group of celebrity investors on national television. But it takes grit — and, of course, a distinctively innovative concept — to win them over. Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse did just that in February, when they walked away with a $100,000 investment from Mark Cuban on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Their proposal: to employ hundreds of U.S. military spouses to make gorgeous, artisanal, 100% American handmade bags from recycled military surplus materials.
Unemployment rates among military spouses are three times that of the national average at a cost of around a billion dollars in taxpayer money each year, according to a Blue Star Families study. Bradley and Cruse knew they wanted to help alleviate that problem even before they knew exactly what they wanted to do as a company.
“It was so much more about the mission than growing a business,” Cruse told Task & Purpose. And who better than Rosie the Riveter — the hallmark of American women’s empowerment — as a namesake? Thus, R. Riveter was born.
R. Riveter founders Lisa Bradley, 31 (left) and Cameron Cruse, 28 (right) in their Southern Pines, North Carolina retail shop.Photo via Abi Ray
Bradley and Cruse met when their husbands served as Ranger instructors at the 5th Ranger Training Battalion in Dahlonega, Georgia. Both women hold master’s degrees — Bradley in business and Cruse in architecture — but because they were constantly jumping from duty station to duty station, both struggled to find meaningful employment.
“Local employers know that you’re just going to be moving, so we were either facing a really long commute or a part-time job that wasn’t really suited to us,” Bradley explained. “So we decided to make a change not only for ourselves but for other military spouses, and we decided to do something that we could move with.”
But first Bradley and Cruse had to figure out how to run a business without any help at all. Their husbands were frequently away on long training sessions — “conveniently at times like when we needed help getting a 150-pound sewing machine up an attic ladder,” joked Bradley. Without a loan or any kind of financial assistance, the duo was only able to purchase raw materials for the R. Riveter bags and the equipment to construct them.
“In the beginning it was just Cameron and myself making bags in her attic,” Bradley recalled. “We started in November of 2011, and we contributed a little over $2,000 each into the company. From there we just grew it bag by bag and military spouse by military spouse.”
Over time, Bradley and Cruse designed a flexible yet lucrative business model that provides military spouses an option to keep their employment whenever and wherever they move. But unlike other “work from home” businesses that you can move with (like Mary Kay or Avon), R. Riveter does not require an upfront investment in product from their employees — whom they charmingly refer to as “Riveters” — and they do not require their employees to sell the products.
Photos via Abi Ray
“We ship the raw materials — canvas, leather, lining fabric — directly to the Riveters’ home,” Bradley explained. From there, the Riveter uses those materials to construct the individual components of the bag in her own home, and then R. Riveter purchases those components for final assembly. All of the materials that go into R. Riveter’s limited edition handbag line come from donated military clothing or are U.S. armed forces surplus materials that come from a military spouse vendor.
The bags are assembled in Southern Pines, North Carolina, just outside of Fort Bragg. “We have a retail shop here, as well,” Cruse said. “The hub that we’ve created at Fort Bragg is one where we provide income and employment to military spouses and civilians to be able to support that manufacturing network.”
In 2014, Bradley and Cruse gained serious traction in their business when they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, which earned over $40,000. Soon after, they were contacted by the producers of “Shark Tank,” who offered them the opportunity to pitch their business concept on the show.
“Shark Tank was awesome,” said Cruse, “We received three investment offers from the Sharks” — including a $100,000 investment offer plus financing options from Mark Cuban. “That experience has really propelled us probably four years into the future on our growth trajectory.”
The Riveter network has since grown to include 31 remote Riveters who work as independent contractors and 25 staff members.
Although the bags come at a relatively high price point, they are highly sought after. “Our customers understand what it means to make something here in America,” Bradley said. “So many manufacturers are moving their operations overseas. Not only are we 100% American-made, we’re also supporting military spouses by shipping parts and pieces to and from them.”
Through the fame and success that’s come in the wake of “Shark Tank,” Bradley and Cruse hope to inspire other military spouses. “We’ve seen in our short time of being a business the big picture of R. Riveter,” said Cruse. “It’s not necessarily to employ every military spouse or empower them through our mobile income model, but it’s also to show them that they can do this — they can have their own business.”
Photos via Abi Ray
Each handbag is stamped with the maker’s number. If you go the R. Riveter website, you’ll be able to “meet” every single military spouse who helped create your bag. “It not only symbolizes a community of R. Riveters, but an American military community of spouses,” said Bradley.
The future of R. Riveter is looking just as bright as its beginning. Bradley and Cruse hope to open more R. Riveter shops, and also continue expanding the Riveter network to spouses and bases nationwide. Their ultimate goal: to create local R. Riveter communities on all military bases.
“We want our Riveters to be able to pick up and move from Fort Bragg to Colorado knowing that they have one less thing to worry about — they can plug right into another R.Riveter community at their next base,” said Cruse. “If we can do anything to lessen the burden of our active duty military families, that’s success in my book.”
Task & Purpose readers will receive an exclusive 15% discount by using the code TASKPURPOSE15 upon checkout on the R.Riveter website.
Donate military materials here.
Apply to become a Riveter here.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.
The Air Force is investigating whether an airman smoked weed at a missile alert facility for nuclear Minuteman ICBMs
The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.