SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. – I noticed the minivans right away. The minute I pulled into the very last parking space in the lot, I noticed the minivans and the kids’ sports team stickers. There was a simple sign outside marking the brand. I sat in the break area while waiting a few minutes for Cameron, half of the dynamite-duo that makes up R. Riveter – a handbag company specializing in bags made entirely from the hands of military spouses upcycling military materials. The humming of two industrial sewing machines provided a soft undertone to the back and forth conversation between the Riveters. Every set of hands were moving – expertly, purposefully. Much of the floor was covered in boxes, many filled, more ready to be. I sat watching the dream of two milspouses in action, watching it as a living and breathing entity. Cameron stepped out and we moved further into the warehouse to talk.
While the Riveters took their break and the hustle and bustle turned to chatter and laughter, I listened in absolute shock when Cameron shared the timeline in which R. Riveter went from idea to reality. Four years ago, Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley met in Dahlonega, Georgia and recognized a dream. They were only in Dahlonega for six months together before the Army took them in separate directions. Six months. My jaw dropped. In that short time span, these spouses met, bonded, developed an idea, formulated a business plan, and put it into action. “Rosie the Riveter” (the company’s namesake) would be immensely proud.
In my conversation with Cameron so much of what R. Riveter is, what it encompasses, is the struggle of so many military spouses. Men and women who are talented, who have a deep desire to be “of use” in something outside of themselves, but who face continuous moving, separations, parenting without a partner present, degrees that are hard, if not impossible, to put to use in the reality of military life. I sat in complete disbelief and awe when I realized they “made” R. Riveter, made the vision of it and began bringing it to existence in just six short months. I quickly started laughing when it hit me that, for some of us, that’s over a quarter of our time at a duty station. Time means something different for military families. Time works differently for military families. Lisa and Cameron took full advantage, understood every single challenge that would be placed before them, and hit the ground running.
“I just trust her,” Cameron said about Lisa, “… I don’t think I could have done it with anybody else.”
From the beginning, they knew they wanted to employ military spouses, to offer an opportunity rarely available to us – a sustainable job, and community within that, that travels with you wherever the military takes you. They recognize the struggle for spouses who need and/or desire meaningful employment because they had the exact same desire, facing the exact same reality. Cameron said, “I’ve always felt some draw, some responsibility, to bring home, bring ‘something’ … I wanted to work.”
But to be able to sustain a job when the military may move you every two years, or less at times, is incredibly difficult. Cameron and I talked about the extra effort it takes to focus hiring towards supporting and empowering spouses and she said, “When you find the military spouses that have been looking for a job for five years, who gave up on their career ten years ago, they’re the ones who will be incredibly loyal … They will do and learn anything.” Every employee with R. Riveter is a milspouse, from their marketing, to their production, from every single part of a R. Riveter handbag, a spouse built it. When PCS orders come, the job moves with them. It was always the plan, always the purpose, and Lisa and Cameron spend every day positively impacting the lives of military families because of that dream.
Every handbag from R. Riveter is stamped with the “numbers” of the Riveters who crafted each piece. When you purchase an R. Riveter bag, the customer isn’t simply buying a well-made, individually crafted, purse, clutch, or small tote. They are buying into a mission. They are buying into the “something more” for dozens of spouses. They are supporting a community, a vision, a victory! Two milspouses taking on every odd bet against them, every “it’s not possible” ever uttered in defeat by a spouse. As a customer, you buy into a different reality, a needed reality for families, that “more” is possible. You buy into the something greater, and the something bigger, and the dream of those who quietly, humbly stand beside those who serve this nation.
When asked where she finds joy, Cameron said, “Being able to hear some of these stories that come through and being able to … basically being able to see and hear with this bag, with this heirloom bag, or with this job … the good that it can do is really the ultimate ‘why’.”
As spouses, we know what it is to belong to something bigger than oneself. We know what it is to stand strong in the hardest of times. Lisa and Cameron stand firm for military spouses across the Armed Services. For four years they have built them up, they have worked for them, to offer more for them. They are the change in tide for their peers everywhere, walking the same path. With Lisa and Cameron, the civilian world gets to take part in the victory that is R. Riveter. I can hear every milspouse that has come before rooting them on; I can see them quietly nodding their heads thinking, “Get ‘em, girls. Rosie would be so proud. “
Dreams in Action is a two-part series on the dynamic duo who launched a successful small business with the twists and turns of military life while creating employment opportunities for other military spouses. Find out what happens next as R. Riveter lands a deal on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank.