The ancient phrase “to turn swords into plough shares” may not be common today, but Emily and Betsy Nunez are doing their best to keep it relevant. The phrase means to take military technologies and materials (the swords) and apply them to peaceful civilian activities (the plough shares). Their new company, appropriately called Sword & Plough, is repurposing surplus military material into fashionable bags and accessories.
Raised in a military family at West Point, Emily and Betsy have had a relationship with the military their whole lives. Later, as only one of three Army ROTC cadets studying at Middlebury, Emily lacked a clear way to relate her passion for military service and the nation's veterans to others around her. So the Nunez sisters decided to “create something that would emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives and remind them, in a beautiful way, of the challenges our country and servicemen face, and the power that every person has to help,” and Sword & Plough was born.
Operating with a quadruple bottom line business model (people, purpose, planet and profit), the company has three main goals:
- To empower and employ military veterans as sewers and manufacturers
- To reduce waste and use only upcycled military surplus material
- To use fashion to strengthen civil-military understanding
This noble mission statement is a direct product of the ever-growing number of organizations and programs that support young entrepreneurs. First, the company received help from Middlebury’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship. This was closely followed by work with the Dell Social Innovation Lab, and a first place and Audience Choice Award at the Harvard Pitch for Change Competition, and the company was even pitched on the New York Stock Exchange floor during the Kairos Global Summit. In addition to these opportunities, they have a substantial board of advisors including David Bornstein, columnist in the New York Times Opinionator; Gemma Bulos, Director of the Global Women’s Water Initiative; Alan Hassenfeld, former Chairman of the Board at Hasbro; Dr. Charles MacCormack, Executive Chair of the Millennium Development Goals Health Alliance; and Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s.
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This support all culminated in a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that launched on April 15th. Having set a modest 30-day goal of $20,000, they blew those numbers out of the water: 1,553 backers contributed $312,161 in just 30 days. With 1,500% of their goal raised, Sword & Plough will begin accepting orders on its website on July 4th.
Using the upcycled military materials, S&P bags require 95% less energy and raw materials to produce than similar products. Combined with eco-leather accents, the military fabrics are water, fire and UV resistant and provide extra durability. Add in the fact that veterans sewing at Green Vets Los Angeles manufacture these bags and S&P products more than sell themselves and embody the company's quadruple bottom line philosophy.
The big takeaway from this amazing company is that these organizations can make a difference not only to the entrepreneurs but also to the community. Recently, the Dell Social Innovation Challenge announced a new winner. With any luck, exciting entrepreneurial efforts such as these will slowly start to change the products we buy and why we buy them.