THE STORY OF R.RIVETER
There’s one word that can be used to describe the shared experience of every military spouse - sacrifice. As military families move an average of every 2.9 years, many military spouses struggle to build and maintain a career. Each time they pack and repack their boxes, they’re forced to pack and repack their professional lives. As a result, the unemployment rate for military spouses is more than 4x the national average. What’s more - spouses with employment make 38% less than their civilian counterparts.
When Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley met in a tiny military town in the north Georgia mountains, they knew the difficulty and frustration of this shared sacrifice. Both women were highly educated and ambitious, yet both struggled – year after year, station after station – to find regular, fulfilling employment.
“It really drew us together - going through the same experience of being excited about an opportunity only to find out we’d been passed over. After a while, it can really wear you down, cause you to doubt yourself, or even give up on looking for a job. We knew about the issue better than anyone, and we decided, ‘You know what? It doesn’t have to be this way."
Many conversations about shared frustrations and perceived obstacles in the way of professional dreams sparked an idea that was set in motion on Veteran’s Day in 2011.
“We were starting to see that if we wanted a career in this transient military life, we’d have to create it for ourselves. Not only did we need flexible income, but we needed mobile income to travel along with us as we relocate with our military members. And that’s when R.Riveter was born.”
IT WAS [STILL] ONLY JUST A DREAM
The name came to Cameron and Lisa right away. Even though 2011 was a much more sophisticated time than the 1940s, our founders resonated with the courageous spirit of the iconic WWII Rosie the Riveter, and how millions of women stepped up to take on more than they ever imagined.
Knowing that they wanted to make something tangible and utilitarian, Cameron and Lisa quickly settled on handbags, and got to work.
The two-woman team started from scratch, never having manufactured a thing in their lives. They charged two-thousand dollars each on their credit cards, and bought a commercial sewing machine, some leather, and canvas. With a shop set up in Cameron’s chilly attic, they taught themselves to sew.
“When we first got started, the idea was to sell two bags, so that we could buy the parts to make four bags, so that we could buy the parts to make eight bags, and so on,” said Cruse. “We knew, right from the get-go, that there was an opportunity here that could stretch beyond just us. We wanted to be able to offer other military spouses the chance to join us and earn mobile, flexible income - but we knew we’d have to grow first.”
Several months later, our founders were confronted with an uncomfortable, but pivotal reality. Lisa and her husband would be relocating to another military base, not yet a year after R.Riveter was born. Not ready to give up on R.Riveter, Cameron and Lisa took a leap of faith. Now was the time to see if their dream of creating mobile, flexible income could become a reality. They played off each other’s strengths while splitting up responsibilities; Lisa took the finance and administrative side of R.Riveter to her new home, while Cameron, who would soon also be moving with her soldier to North Carolina, managed operations.
As our founders continued to grow the company, R.Riveter slowly started to bring on Remote Riveters, who crafted handbag components in their homes across the country. Eventually, a team was hired to run the Fabshop in North Carolina, where handbags are still assembled today. In fact, North Carolina is something of a home for us, as it’s where we chose to open a flagship retail location after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015.
REDEFINING AMERICAN MANUFACTURING
Our unique manufacturing model empowers independent Riveters while breaking barriers that typically limit traditional manufacturing.
What are Riveters, you ask? Riveters are talented military spouses living across our country with their military members. These women are not only independent business owners, but in many cases, dedicated mothers who desire the freedom and flexibility to work on their own time, so they can also support their families and raise their children. While our Riveters are motivated as business owners to profit from their skill and efficiency, business ownership provides a sense of empowerment and fulfillment to know they are in complete control of how well they prosper in their business. The end result is a highly motivated and highly efficient military spouse who creates components for the company.
In turn, R.Riveter contracts based on quarterly production needs, embodying a "just in time philosophy", lowering inventory costs and streamlining manufacturing. Dedicated company team members assemble final products at our facility in North Carolina and manage all fulfillment services of products sold around the country or at our flagship store in Southern Pines, NC.
INTO THE TANK
In 2015, R.Riveter was enjoying steady growth. With a modest retail store and growing operations, Cameron and Lisa had been able to create a small community of military spouses who were able to participate in the creation of R.Riveter products from their homes across the country. Life was good, but our dreams were bigger. Cameron and Lisa knew that R.Riveter was creating buzz in the military community, but they never could have guessed what happened next. One phone call from a show called “Shark Tank” changed the game. Our co-founders stepped into ABC’s Shark Tank in February 2016 to share their mission of providing mobile, flexible income for military spouses, using their unique manufacturing process. While three Sharks were interested in investing in the company, Cameron and Lisa accepted an offer of partnership from billionaire investor and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
“Shark Tank was a powerful moment of affirmation. Creating mobile, flexible income for military families was the dream, and to know that this group of business moguls not only thought it was a good idea, but wanted to join our mission was incredible.”
THE SHARK TANK EFFECT
The R.Riveter team realized almost immediately that the “Shark Tank Effect” wasn’t a myth. While managing and growing the company was already a challenge for a pair of budding entrepreneurs, a year of revenue growth 735% year over year was something no one imagined.
As orders poured in and the nation began to rally behind R.Riveter’s mission of supporting our nation’s military families, the production team identified that R.Riveter was going to need to triple the size of their Remote Riveter network to keep up with demand.
“This was our moment to truly redefine manufacturing in America, and it seemed like the whole nation stepped in to cheer us on. We started to take the first couple of steps up that mountain the only way we knew how, one Riveter at a time, one bag at a time.”
Despite a year of incredible growth, support and national attention in 2016, R.Riveter never swayed from the original mission and business model. We are and always will be a company with a dream to provide mobile, flexible income to independent military spouses.
We’re American Handmade.
And as people started to say, we’re “the bag ladies” on a mission.
As operations continued to scale, the team continued to grow, and hundreds upon hundreds of American Handmade bags continued to ship across the country, R.Riveter received a new accolade of encouragement – the company had been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in America.
“Learning that we had been nominated #298 on Inc’s list of 500 fastest growing companies in America was humbling. While we are proud of the success so far, we have so much yet to accomplish. We’ve only just begun.”
One important detail many people don’t realize is that our bags are still made by independent military spouses across the country. Our American Handmade quality is not only maintained, but improved upon as we continue to refine our products – all while scaling operations tenfold. Not many companies could say that, but it’s something we hang our hats on at the end of each day.
WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN
In the beginning, many told us it wasn’t probable. Many told us that the idea to redefine manufacturing to provide mobile income to military spouses was a nice one, but it probably wouldn’t scale. And it probably wouldn’t be profitable. Six years into R.Riveter, we’re so proud to have broken through barriers and redefined norms, all while staying true to our mission. That dream, that mission to provide mobile, flexible income to some of the most courageous people on the planet is truly humbling.
But looking forward, we have so much more work to do.
Our Mission never ends. So, with each stitch and rivet, we’ll continue to provide meaningful employment for military spouses. With each American Handmade product sold, we’ll continue to build a community of empowered, inspired people who work hard to make the world a better place. With each mountain to climb, we’ll keep breaking through barriers, redefining norms, and creating solutions for things that don’t seem very probable. The ideals that drive our company forward are the ideals which drive the American dream.