The military spouse founders of a canvas and leather handbag company are celebrating their 10th anniversary with a grant program aimed at helping fellow military-connected entrepreneurs.
Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse have led R. Riveter as its CEO and CCO since starting the business in 2011. Both Army spouses, the duo dreamed of running a business that provided meaningful and flexible employment for military spouses, no matter how many times they PCS’d. R. Riveter was the fulfillment of that dream.
The brand impressed shoppers with its artisanal bags’ quality and style, as well as billionaire Mark Cuban from the popular ABC show Shark Tank. Cuban offered them a $100,000 investment in 2016, and R. Riveter has only grown since. Today, the brand puts-to-work 79 “Riveters,” military spouses all over the country who craft individual components of a purse before shipping them to R. Riveter’s manufacturing and warehouse centers in North Carolina and Florida.
But Bradley and Cruse still remember when they didn’t have a following of tens of thousands. It wasn’t that long ago, Cruse said, when they each put $2,100 on their credit cards to launch R. Riveter from Cruse’s garage.
“We remember when we got our first wholesale order and how good that felt,” Cruse said. “We realized we could give back both monetarily and through a version of our platform, really continuing to help other military spouses grow their brand.”
Pitch & Win
Cruse and Bradley launched The Riveter Fund this summer to commemorate successfully staying in business for a decade. They decided to offer two grants of (a symbolic) $2,100 each to military spouse entrepreneurs. Hundreds of enterprising spouses applied with short videos pitching their businesses “Shark Tank-style.”
Cruse said the businesses ranged from brick-and-mortar retail and services to health and wellness and even food-based companies. “We had really great entries with quality of branding and ability to take something from nothing and make it something,” she said.
Cruse, Bradley and their team pared the applicants down to a final five. From there, R. Riveter fans voted for their favorites on the website. “We were really very inspired by the five businesses we chose as finalists and were excited to tell their stories,” Cruse said.
Online voting ran from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, with more than 1,000 votes rolling in. The two eventual winners of the inaugural Riveter Fund grants were Bearerra Heirlooms & Keepsakes, a maker of custom bears and other memory keepsakes, and Raising Glory, a handmade clay jewelry business.
“Both Bearerra and Raising Glory felt like they had a very good understanding of how to build a brand and the secret sauce that goes into that,” said Cruse. “Their products, the way they presented themselves — it was all a part of that and why they won.”
Samantha Walker is one-half of the mother-daughter team, Raising Glory, based in Ohio. She plans on using the Riveter Fund money to purchase supplies, upgrade equipment and further her marketing education. She’d been eyeing a high-end polymer clay machine, for example. Before the Riveter Fund, it was just a dream. But now, the “Lucy Clay” is within reach.
“This money will help me accomplish all these goals,” Walker explained.
Kimberly Herrera started Bearerra after seeing how much her Air Force husband enjoyed a bear she sewed for a year-long remote tour. She now takes old uniforms and other military memorabilia and turns them into personalized memory keepsakes for military kids and other loved ones.
“The grant from The Riveter Fund will allow me to improve our marketing to better serve our veteran community and families of our fallen brothers & sisters by expanding my reach throughout the first-responder community more efficiently,” Herrera said. “By investing in industrial sewing equipment, Bearerra will be more efficient at being able to provide comfort and joy to those in different seasons of their life journey by turning their memories into quality keepsakes that can be cherished forever.”
It’s exactly the sort of sentiment Bradley and Cruse hoped to hear. They plan to continue The Riveter Fund in 2022.
Cruse said they’ve wanted to do something like this since right after their success on Shark Tank. “Lisa and I learned so much as young entrepreneurs, and The Riveter Fund is our way of saying if we can do it, you can too.”