Two sisters, Betsy, 22, and Emily Nunez, 25, launched an unlikely business for two military kids. Who’d ever think they’d be in the trade of handbags?
Their new company, called Sword & Plough, is a fashionable line of bags and handbags all made of repurposed military materials —Army tents, parachutes, and laundry and sleeping bags— and from news outlets to fashion blogs, to veterans’ organizations, their signature bags are getting crazy buzz.
The Nunez ladies began selling their products through a campaign on the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter, and they’ve already raised over $100,000 ($60K in the first three hours). It’s clear they’re well on their way to a business more unique and successful than even they could have imagined.
The girls are from a large military family. Both were born at West Point. And their Bolivian father was a colonel in the Army. Emily is an active-duty officer in the Army. She’s currently living at Fort Carson in Colorado awaiting deployment to Afghanistan. Betsy recently left her sales job in Boston to become a full-time Sword & Plough employee.
“We moved a lot as kids to various military posts. But growing up we’d always been aware of these large piles of military equipment stored in facilities. The stuff gets thrown away if it’s deemed unserviceable,” Emily said.
In January 2012, Emily, the then-international studies major at Middlebury College, attended an event featuring speakers who’d founded start-ups that included recycling in their business models. She was inspired.
“It came to my mind to do accessories,” Emily said. “I mean, what product does every man and woman use daily? A bag.”
As the idea grew, the sisters took it to various enterprise venues, including the Dell Social Innovation Lab, and made a pitch for it on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during the Kairos Global Summit. Their plan won first place and the audience choice award at the Harvard Pitch for Change Competition, which came with a $6,500 check and free consulting.
Sword & Plough’s name comes from the saying “turn swords into ploughshares,” a Biblical phrase from the Book of Isaiah. To the Nunez sisters, it means to take military supplies and materials and apply them to peaceful civilian use.
“I hope what we’re doing will be seen as a positive message about the military. Also, being able to employ manufacturing companies manned by veterans, we’re able to sustain them,” Betsy said.
Sword & Plough is currently working with GreenVets Los Angeles, a nonprofit that provides jobs for veterans who make reusable bags.
Offerings of the line include a tote bag, messenger bag, an “urban rucksack” and an iPad case. The hardware, leather, gold buckles and other materials, all come from near Emily's home in Colorado Springs.
Prices of Sword & Plough products range from $25 to $289. The bags will eventually be sold through Sword & Plough's own website, but are currently being offered through Kickstarter at below-retail prices.