Heroes at Work: US Army vet's company makes handbags from surplus military materials

Aside from the people she worked with, one of the things Emily Nunez Cavness misses about the United States Army is parachuting out of airplanes and helicopters.

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Thankfully, the 29-year-old former U.S. Army Captain has been able to continue working with other military veterans through her company, Sword & Plough -- she just hasn’t been able to recreate the thrill of parachuting with the 10th Special Forces Group.

Based in Denver, Colo., Sword & Plough uses military surplus materials to make handbags, accessories and jewelry.

The company was founded in 2012 by Cavness and her sister, Betsy Nunez, with the goal of “[bridging] the civil-military divide and [empowering] veteran employment,” Cavness told FOX Business.

Emily Nunez Cavness (pictured) is a former U.S. Army Captain and the CEO and co-founder of Sword & Plough, a company that sells handbags and accessories made from military surplus materials. (Sword & Plough)

The idea for Sword & Plough actually came to Cavness when she was a senior at Middlebury College, attending a talk on social entrepreneurship.

The talk got her thinking about wasted materials that could be “turned into something beautiful with a powerful mission,” she said.

Cavness, who had grown up in a military family and was participating in Army ROTC during her time in college, immediately thought of military surplus -- while also realizing that everyone around her in the lecture was carrying a bag.

“I thought, we could take these extremely durable materials that have such unique stories and turn them into fashionable bags that anyone would want to use,” Cavness said.

Thus, Sword & Plough was born.

Cavness (right) co-founded Sword & Plough in 2012 with her sister Betsy Nunez (left). The company supports veteran employment and reducing waste.  (Sword & Plough)

Cavness told FOX Business she was inspired to create Sword & Plough during her senior year at Middlebury College. A clutch sold by the company is pictured. (Sword & Plough)

Later that year, Cavness was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

During her first assignment to the 4th Engineer Battalion, she served as an intelligence officer and public affairs officer in Fort Carson, Colo. and Kandahar, Afghanistan.

After she returned from Afghanistan, she served in the 10th Special Forces Group -- where she parachuted out of airplanes and helicopters. During that time she had roles including Military Intelligence Company Executive Officer, the Assistant Intelligence Officer of the Group, and the Open Source Intelligence Cell Director.

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Cavness served in the Army for five years -- from 2012 to 2017 -- and those years taught her many of the same skills she uses today to run Sword & Plough.

“You receive more responsibility as a 22-year-old in the U.S. military than any other organization I can imagine,” she said. “You learn how to lead people, thoroughly plan, anticipate risks, prioritize projects, be adaptable and stay calm in complex and high-stakes environments.”

In 2013, Cavness was given the White House Champion of Change award and in 2015, she and her sister were named among Forbes' 30 Under 30 fellows. A bag sold by the company is pictured. (Sword & Plough)

Sword & Plough is based in Denver, Colo., and its goods are made by veteran-owned or operated manufacturers in the U.S., according to the company's website. (Sword &  Plough)

“The military prepared me very well to lead in the civilian workforce,” she added. “For me, having a strong sense of purpose at work is really important. I found that in the Army and I find it at Sword & Plough as well.”

In 2013, Cavness was given the White House Champion of Change award and in 2015, she and her sister were named among Forbes' 30 Under 30 fellows.

The company itself has grown a lot since it was founded in 2012. It is now a Certified B Corporation and has supported 74 veteran jobs, Cavness said.

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The company has also repurposed more than 300,000 pounds of military surplus for handbags and other accessories that were made in the U.S. at veteran-owned or partially operated manufacturers, according to the Sword & Plough website.

Ten percent of the company’s profits even go to veteran organizations and as of today, Sword & Plough has donated more than $100,000, Cavness said.

And even though she doesn’t get to jump out of airplanes or helicopters anymore, Cavness said running her own business still has its thrills.

“Like the Army, entrepreneurship is a very exciting career,” she said.