A few weeks ago, I wrote a special Veterans Day piece focusing on a small, but growing, community of entrepreneurs that have gone largely unnoticed in American society: military spouses. I was so impressed by the women that I met with during my research that I decided to write a follow-up article showcasing, specifically, how two of these career-minded military spouses are finding innovative ways to launch and grow entrepreneurial ventures and employ other spouses despite their challenges of having to pick up and move, often internationally, every few years.
For decades, choosing the life of military spouse meant that women (over 91% of military spouses are female) usually had to give up any career aspirations in lieu of their husband’s career. With constant moves and the responsibilities of taking care of children while alone, military spouses found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pursue professional careers. These spouses were often forced to take jobs well below their education levels and their professional ambitions in order to support their military families—until now.
A growing number of military spouses are now finding entrepreneurship to be a viable solution, giving them the flexibility to create “mobile businesses” that they can manage and grow from wherever the military may take them. Rapid advances in technology have made this possible and these innovative men and women are figuring out ways to have it all as they continue to support their soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
While these innovative models are providing entrepreneurial and employment opportunities, they also come with their own set of complexities, including- managing a remote workforce, maintaining high-levels of quality, and keeping people informed and engaged across great distances.
After my last article about the MilSpo Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting military spouse entrepreneurs with education and local support at over 30 local chapters around the globe, I decided that this subject warranted some deeper exploration. Not just because I’m a veteran and I understand the struggles that military spouses face, but because these entrepreneurs are breaking down the longstanding barriers that have existed for career-minded women and men who were unable to fill the professional void in their lives.
The founders of one such company, R. Riveter, are a shining example of military spouse entrepreneurs that have not only created an innovative business model to fit their lifestyle, but are also providing mobile job opportunities to other military spouses.
Who is R. Riveter?
R. Riveter, based in the small town of Southern Pines, NC, is the entrepreneurial creation of Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse, both spouses of Army soldiers. The name is a nod to the World War II cultural icon Rosie the Riveter who represented the factory-working women of the era. But these Riveters (what they call their employees) are creating gorgeous, American handmade bags, purses and other products (they even have a line for your favorite four-legged friends).
What’s so amazing about the women of R. Riveter is not just the quality of their products or the fact that they are handmade here in the good old USA. The real story here is how they’ve created a business model that works for their unique lifestyle.
Here are the need-to-knows about R. Riveter:
- All of their products are handmade by military spouses and those with a connection to the military. Cruse and Bradley first conceived of their business concept while living in Dahlonega, GA where their husbands were stationed. Frustrated that they could not pursue their professional aspirations the way they had envisioned, the two set out to create their own company to meet their need as well as the gap for other military spouses whom they now employ. That was four years ago. R. Riveter has now grown to a staff of 15 and a subcontractor workforce of 12 located around the country.
- R. Riveter jobs are completely mobile. Borne out of necessity as their employees were forced to relocate their families to new duty stations, the team at R. Riveter wanted to make sure that their team members could continue to keep their jobs. In order to give these Riveters the mobility and flexibility they would need, they created a subcontract workforce who can relocate anywhere in the country while still contributing to the cause. These subcontractors make the parts and pieces which are then shipped to the company’s NC fabrication shop to be assembled.
- All of their products are made from upcycled military equipment. From wool blankets secured from West Point to canvas totes made from old army tents, these entrepreneurs are using preexisting military excess materials to make their products. “We both graduated from programs that had a focus on sustainability so using surplus military materials met several of our goals in terms of keeping the military connection and in allowing us to breathe new life into these surplus materials,” Cruse says.
- R. Riveter produces both limited edition items made in small batches from materials they are able to source as well as a signature line that serves as the company’s permanent offerings made of military canvas, which is extremely plentiful. Their heirloom collection allows for total customization. You provide the military material and they turn it into a one-of-a-kind piece that lets you honor your veteran in a unique way. From old uniforms to blankets, the craftsmen at R. Riveter can create a product that has special meaning to their customers.
As more military spouses turn to entrepreneurship, we’ll likely begin to see creative business models being developed that allow for mobile jobs that align with the military spouse lifestyle.
“As we turn our attention toward scaling the business and national growth,” says Bradley, “we want to stay true to our original mission of providing the highest quality products made in America while also providing job opportunities to military spouses.”
My hat is off to the women of R. Riveter and to the other military spouses around the globe who are not compromising their career goals because of the challenges of a mobile lifestyle. This holiday season, consider supporting one of these fantastic businesses and you’ll be taking a tangible step towards helping military spouse entrepreneurs succeed. If you’re an entrepreneur yourself, consider not only how you might learn from these pioneers but also how you might support their efforts as they continue to break new ground and drive toward the American dream.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.