The handbags made by R.Riveter tend to come with narratives, says co-founder Lisa Bradley. “Every time a woman picks up a handbag, she knows she’s picking up the stories of 12 military spouses who made it,” she says. “It really is a conversation starter.” Bradley and Cameron Cruse met in 2011 in Dahlonega, Ga., where their husbands were stationed. They bonded over difficulty finding meaningful employment and loss of identity as a military spouse (military families move every three years, on average). Inspired by Rosie the Riveter, they began making handbags from a garage. From the start, they knew they didn’t want to create a charity. “We wanted opportunity,” Bradley says. “We wanted to start a company that provides jobs for women across the country.”
The co-founders’ appearance on “Shark Tank” in 2016 propelled R.Riveter from $300,000 in revenue to more than $2 million the following year, growing it 1,475 percent between 2014 and 2016. “It was a slingshot,” Cruse said, noting that keeping up with the “ ‘Shark Tank’ effect ” after the episode was challenging, but customers were patient and understanding. The experience also forced the women to plan better and find solutions for handling product volume. Since then, they have identified technologies to enable the entire business to operate remotely — not only manufacturing but administration, inventory and finance.
Today they have 45 remote “Riveters,” 40 employees and a product line that will expand in 2019. One-third of every dollar spent goes to help a military family, and R.Riveter’s only store, in Southern Pines, North Carolina, is responsible for 35 percent of company sales. The shop has become a gathering spot for military spouses. “In an age when everyone’s buying online, we’re able to be part of the community,” Bradley says. Cruse adds that the space, with sofas, chairs and regular events, is where military wives come after they’ve dropped off their kids, “just to have an adult conversation with someone who understands what you’re going through.”