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Created more than a decade ago by military wives, Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse, R. Riveter is all about enhancing the lives of busy, authentic women. And that means delivering well-made, American handbags created by military spouses — providing them with a flexible employment opportunity that can be done wherever deployment takes them.

R. Riveter’s unique designs stem from the mantra that the company embodies success through hard work. With each riveter (workers are named after Rose the Riveter) doing their part in assembling products, the mission has been accomplished again and again through the hands of each worker.

With a growing community, the company aims to inspire and be inspired. Having grown and evolved, today, R. Riveter offers candles, apparel and hats in addition to its signature handbags, offering its consumers more ways to honor the women in history who have made an impact and changed the world. Each handbag is given a name that represents a woman of history with their story told on the product page for the consumer to take in.

Here, Bradley and Cruse speak to WWD about growing their business, reaching authentic women and providing a community.

WWD: How has R. Riveter continued to grow and evolve since first entering the market?

Lisa Bradley: It feels like a long time. It’s funny because some of it feels the same because we’re still on the path of providing mobile taxable income and resources for military spouses, but we’ve also launched new product lines. And with that, we’ve filled out the overall R. Riveter signature look. We have launched a handful of new bags that we’re even having trouble keeping in stock.

We’re looking forward to some really fun and surprising things in the new year too, where we can have a much larger impact for military families and spouses and women who are starting their own businesses. We launched wholesale in January of this year and are now in smaller boutiques and some larger, more traditional wholesale accounts.

There is a lot on the horizon.

Cameron Cruse: We actually had a big initiative over 2020 to move to a much larger manufacturing facility because we grew like crazy after “Shark Tank.” We needed to increase the ability for military spouses to be able to make these textile pieces from home so we invested in a lot of equipment and it’s a whole new way that they receive the parts and pieces now. It’s a really cool update.

WWD: As the company has grown, how have you continued to provide riveters with a sense of ownership over their work?

L.B.: For us, somebody is really a riveter in their own right. We have a first and last name but also give them a riveter number. When we started the company, being able to have a work opportunity and have that ability to do this was really important for us and we want them to take ownership of their part at every phase. We’re putting that number on the work we do to give ownership.

C.C.: One thing that we knew just from being military spouses who were moving around was that we were struggling with an underlying identity crisis. Sometimes you hit a stage of your life and you thought it was going to be a certain way and you realize it’s not what you had planned. We leaned into that feeling and asked how we could make the best of what we had been out in the middle of nowhere and transferred every three years by the military. And how could we provide something for other people? It’s been a long series of listening.

We’ve been able to see it become a tool for other military spouses and it’s contagious. Not only can we provide mobile, flexible income which is the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to do, but we’ve seen other people step up because they’ve seen that we did it.

WWD: To that end, how would you say R. Riveter has fostered a community both with the riveters and a larger consumer base?

C.C.: At first, everybody thought we were a little bit crazy to start a handbag company in the middle of nowhere but then it started to take off and we had some success so that other women around us realized that it is possible. There are a lot of ways that we can provide that empowerment and that kind of inspiration has been part of it.

L.B.: Sticking together as a community is really important. We really believe in being there for each other and that our greatest superpower is working with other women.

R. Riveter Lucy zipper pouch.

Cait Rose Photography

WWD: After getting your start in handbags, how have you looked at what other categories to step into?

C.C.: We realized over the last 12 years that we love making bags and accessories for busy, authentic, empowered women so we just said “What does she need next?” So we go from canvas and leather to nylon and leather because she wants that durability and that resilience and something that she can take with her no matter where she’s going kind of rain, snow, everything. It’s really about trying to see into the future about what she could be looking for in her next success story.

WWD: What is your relationship with the consumer? Where do you reach them most?

L.B.: Word of mouth has been huge for us because we have an empowering story. When you see two women cross paths with an R. Riveter bag, they instantly know that there’s more underlying in why they bought the bag not only to empower the community of women that are a part of R. Riveter but also to help other women because it’s really for women by women. That’s a huge part of our communities growing organically.

And social media has been a great place that people go and find that community and find out what’s coming next. We also have a retail store in North Carolina and it’s a place where we do a lot of product testing and finding out what people want next.

WWD: How have you worked with other companies like Jeep in collaboration?

C.C.: Our fourth launch of the collaboration with Jeep came out in October. There’s a lot of synergy. Jeep was looking to celebrate a small female-owned business but there’s also a synergy in the history of Rosie the Riveter and Jeep being born in the world wars. It’s been incredible to watch the passion of Jeep fans and see that come to life.

As much as we can we try to stay authentic to our brand DNA and with Jeep, there’s an aspect of adventure that we brought out and leaned into a little bit more because of the nature of the Jeep brand.

WWD: Can consumers look forward to more collaborations in the future?

C.C.: We have some launching in early 2024.

WWD: What is your favorite holiday gift item from R. Riveter?

L.B.: We recently launched a series of bags that say “you can change the world.” To me, that is my ultimate favorite not only because it’s our new nylon, but it also has a great guitar strap on it so it sort of pops. It has a message on it that I want everyone to be able to carry.

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