Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse were young military spouses when they met in Dahlonega, Georgia, just outside of Camp Merrill. An M.B.A. and a Master of Architecture, respectively, they hadn’t yet had time to develop careers, and found themselves frustrated by the lack of prospects. After many a discussion about the issue, Lisa recalls, “We thought, Let’s quit talking about it, and do something that’s mobile and flexible for military spouses.”
Thus R. Riveter, a line of rustic-chic handbags and accessories, was born in 2011, with the mission of providing income and stability for military spouses—whose families are typically relocated every two to three years, making long-term, sustainable employment nearly impossible. Lisa and Cameron now have three permanent staff members, or “Rosies,” at their headquarters in Dahlonega, where Cameron is based, with an additional 17 independent contractors from Kentucky to New York (Lisa’s home base) and Washington State.
R. Riveter handbags, messenger bags, diaper bags, clutches, and accessories—available through their website and at select retail stores—are crafted from recycled military canvas, wool, and leather, with all dyeing, cutting, stamping, and riveting done by hand. The colorful patterned liners are even “editioned,” so each is custom to the bag and stamped by the individual artisan. With their casual yet sleekly minimal look and thoughtful details—key hooks, pockets, metal feet to protect the leather bucket bottoms, and signature yellow-ribbon-inspired tags—the bags are both a fashion and a social statement.
We sat down with Cameron and Lisa sat to talk about the company, the process, and, of course, handbags. Read the interview, then enter our giveaway for a free R. Riveter clutch in army green and a spring-ready Pine Cone Hill Velvet Flowers pink scarf—a $160 value, for free!
FA: How did the idea for R. Riveter and the handbags come about?
Lisa: We wanted to create a product that’s very personal, because our story is so personal. We wanted something you could take everywhere with you.
Cameron Cruse: We’re using old tents and blankets—something that has kept a soldier warm or dry—and making it into something personal. We’re giving those materials a second life.
Lisa: We named the company after Rosie the Riveter. She stands for a lot that we want to embody in our company—women working, banning together during difficult time times.
FA: What makes a great handbag?
Cam: It has to be functional. Something you can take from night to day, that works with you and not against you. Our bags are functional, and we want them to be beautiful at the same time. They’re rustic with a sort of modern, minimalist edge. The bucket bottom is a classic look for us, and the colors are rich.
Lisa: They can really be worn all year round. The materials we make the bags from just get better with age, like the vegetable-tanned leather. You can just reoil it, and it will last forever.
FA: Tell us about the artisans and their process.
Lisa: Right now, we’re fully staffed by women, but we’re definitely open to male military spouses, as well. Sometimes we’ll have a spouse who was part of a completely different career path but just wants to be part of our mission. We have a large concentration in the Southeast, which is where we started, with a bunch of others spread out throughout the country. Many of our independent contractors come in and out of company as life circumstances dictate. When you become a military spouse, flexibility is really important, and we honor that.
Cameron: We developed the company with the mission of supporting military spouses. A lot of times, they don’t have the skills at the outset, but we teach them to make the purse parts and do the assembly. Technology is a beautiful thing; it’s allowed us to communicate through and do training on the Internet.
FA: How have your men’s bags been received?
Lisa: We do have some geared toward men, but a lot of our bags and wallet are unisex. Men don’t even mind carrying the diaper bags or holding a purse for their wives because they’re not overly feminine—they’ve got a rustic, equestrian feel.
FA: What are the options for creating a custom bag?
Lisa: It’s something you don’t find a whole lot with handbags. Customers can choose from about a dozen styles, and the leather color, canvas color, and lining fabric. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks to create.
FA: What’s your response to people who say, “Why bother? I can find a bag at Target for $20.”
Cameron: When you buy an R. Riveter bag, you’re investing in so much more than the bag—you’re investing in a community of people, in the American handmade culture, which is definitely on the rise again. There are a lot of people who appreciate the handmade and are willing to pay what it’s worth.
FA: What else is in the pipeline?
Cameron: Our styles have stayed pretty steady. We like the hardworking, classic styles, but we’ll bring in some new styles every now and again.
Lisa: We’re always open to trying new products, like the accessories. One of my favorites is the dog collars. They last so long and don’t absorb smells—just wipe it with a Clorox wipe when it gets dirty. But we’re always looking for new items that are true to our mission of creating really great handbags and accessories, and supporting military spouses. A lot of staying happy in this military lifestyle is having something that keeps you grounded, has purpose, and that you look forward to. That’s what we provide.
Love what you see? Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a fab R. Riveter clutch in army green and a Velvet Flowers pink scarf from Pine Cone Hill! Check out the Rafflecopter entry form below for 4 easy ways to enter! Contest ends on Thursday, April 3 at 11:59 p.m. EST. View the full details.
Congratulations to our winner, Darlene from Washington!