Of Many, Of One: Championing the Spirit of Rosie the Riveter
International Women's Day is celebrated around the world on March 8th in recognition of women's achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political.
When Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley first began designing and sewing handbags in an attic in 2011, they were motivated by their own personal needs to find a sense of tangible purpose and stability amidst the chaos of their lives. While seeking an outlet for improving their own struggles with employment as military spouses who were frequently relocating their families and their lives across the country, the answer to their own dilemma quickly expanded into a business and support network that now provides flexible and remote income to military spouses all across the country.
For countless military spouses, obtaining employment can be difficult and disheartening, even for those with higher education, as they unpack and repack their professional lives. Each time they move, they rebuild their networks and communities and often must start from scratch to find employment. And move they do; military families relocate on average every three years, often to locations in rural parts of the country or small towns with fewer career opportunities. This transient lifestyle, compounded by the emotional and financial costs of constantly building a new community and supporting a military spouse, can significantly affect women. Often, these sacrifices go unrecognized or acknowledged.
In 2011, co-founder of R. Riveter, Cameron Cruse, found herself relocating to a remote town in North Georgia. Even with a degree in architecture, she was having difficulty finding a job and was looking for something meaningful to pursue. "I felt like I was going through a quarter-life crisis," says Cruse. She met Lisa Bradley, whose husband was stationed alongside her spouse as a 5th RTBn Ranger Instructor. With no control over where they would move next, what schools their children would attend, or what jobs might be available, the two women began brainstorming how to regain stability in their lives.
"We were starting to see that if we wanted a career in this transient military life, we'd have to create it for ourselves," says Cameron. "Not only did we need flexible income, but we needed mobile income to travel along with us as we relocated with our military members. And that's when R.Riveter was born."
"We don't run this business in a vacuum or a bubble—part of our mission is to help other women find their purpose—to look internally and do what they want regardless of the path that anyone else thinks they should take."
Cameron and Lisa considered what kind of business they could start and settled on handbags. At first, it was a lot of trial and error. There was some overlap between Cameron's education in architecture and accessory construction that helped them get on their feet, but neither had previous experience designing and sewing products. In the beginning, most of the help came from volunteers and was centered around a need for community and support among military spouses, but it quickly evolved into meaningful employment for many.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, R. Riveter entered its second phase, moving from the hobby level to opening a full retail store in 2015 in North Carolina, where Cameron had recently relocated. Demand began to grow, and the company was able to scale up. In 2016, R. Riveters pitched their business on Shark Tank. With financial support from investor Mark Cuban, the company grew to become a network of military spouses all across the United States.
Soon R. Riveter had women all over the country constructing pieces of handbags. Each Riveter is sent the parts and components needed to sew an aspect of the handbag, creating a virtual assembly line. After completing their piece of the bag, they stamp it with their personal R.R. number. Then they send it back to one of two R. Riveter headquarters in North Carolina and Florida, where the handbag is assembled. No two bags are the same; each has its own story—a compilation of hardworking women's unique history and experiences from all over the country.
Cameron and Lisa named the company in recognition of Rosie the Riveter, WWII's icon of female strength, bravery, and crucial entrance into the workforce. "World War II's Rosie the Riveter embodies so much of what we are trying to do here, including female empowerment and creating something bigger than ourselves," says Cameron. "We don't run this business in a vacuum or a bubble—part of our mission is to help other women find their purpose—to look internally and do what they want regardless of the path that anyone else thinks they should take."