Repurposed for a Purpose: This Social Enterprise Takes 'Made in the USA' to the Next Level
U.S veterans ages 18 to 24 have unemployment rates 16 percent higher than the national average. More than one million veterans are projected to leave the military in the next four years, and the crisis of veteran unemployment and related depression is projected to grow as a result. Sword & Plough aims to solve this problem by working with manufacturers that employ veterans and generating employment opportunities for retired soldiers. Our goal is to help veterans transition into civilian life by finding meaningful employment and a sense of purpose.
Sword & Plough also conserves resources. The materials used to make our bags would otherwise be burned or buried in a landfill, but we enable a beautiful and socially beneficial second life for the canvas and nylon fabrics we recycle. Sword & Plough is projected to upcycle 20,000 pounds of military surplus within its first year of commercial operation. Our social enterprise embodies the movement toward Made in USA, sustainable fashion, veteran employment, and strengthened civil-military relations.
I co-founded Sword & Plough with my sister, U.S. Army officer Emily Nunez. We started a quadruple bottom line (people, purpose, planet, profit) social enterprise that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags for men and women.
It all started with a conversation, but unlike so many others, this one didn’t just end with “that’s a good idea.”
We were grabbing lunch last January after my sister had just attended the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s first symposium, an event made possible by Alan Hassenfeld. After listening to keynote speakers Jacqueline Novagratz and Bill Drayton, Emily was inspired to bring positive change to the relationship between civilians and military service members. One of the existing startups that Jacqueline mentioned particularly resonated with Emily because it used recycled materials in a full-cycle business model.
When I sat down with Emily at lunch she asked me, “What do you think about the idea of recycling military surplus material into fashionable bags?” I pushed forward and immediately started asking more questions. Why? What would it look like? Who would sew it? These were the first questions in what became a six-hour lunch.
From there we did something different: we didn’t give up. The idea didn’t just stay stored on my iPhone, or scrap piece of paper—we took action.
That evening we started matching Emily’s Army ROTC gear against our own purses to see how it might look. We were able to pinpoint some immediate problems to solve, but the most shocking was that we didn’t know what the bags were made of, who they were made by, if they were manufactured in the USA, or what the company was doing with the money we had given them. That’s when we were certain there was space for Sword & Plough, and more importantly, a responsibility to do good with greater goods.
Since that day we haven’t stopped prototyping, and the momentum behind Sword & Plough continues to grow. We took the idea seriously and today we can show you that the concept has become a powerful reality.
Whatever you dream, you can do. Begin it. Take your idea seriously and start asking questions:
What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Why are YOU so passionate about this?
What is the message you want to convey?
Once we realized the importance of action and full commitment to an idea, we came to understand that the things in our way were not walls, but simply small hurdles. Commit, lean into the fear, and witness how what once seemed like a hurdle becomes a joyful journey and adventure.
What's your great idea? Submit it to the Start Something That Matters Challenge by May 17th for your chance at $50,000 award.