Cooler Than Camo, Tougher Than Leather - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Cooler Than Camo, Tougher Than Leather

By Lorraine Sanders


Because you want a sturdy, fashionable bag — and military veterans want a job. Sword & Plough brings shoppers and soldiers together through style.

Some might call Betsy and Emily Núñez military brats. The sisters grew up in a close-knit family, with a U.S. Army colonel for a father, and were raised on four Army bases. But as founders of a new company called Sword & Plough , brats they are most definitely not. 

The Núñez sisters are actually do-gooders to the nth degree, and they’re on a mission to create jobs for veterans, reduce waste, and connect civilians and members of the military — and sell some very cool, made-in-the-USA bags from repurposed military surplus while they’re at it.

The bags are sturdy, stylish, and, after two years in the works, finally available to you. (Not just to the Kickstarter backers who helped Sword & Plough raise 1,560 percent of its goal last year.) The Denver-based company began selling its collection to the public for the first time in February — less than two months after Emily, 24, returned from a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They turn military tents, canvas and supplies that would otherwise be discarded into stylish bags. 

The idea was hatched in 2012 over lunch at Middlebury College, where big sister Betsy was visiting little sister Emily, who was a busy senior balancing ROTC training with classes — and bound for active military duty after graduation.

And the idea was this: They’d turn military tents, canvas and supplies that would otherwise be discarded into stylish bags. Tap veterans to construct the bags and make a small dent in the many challenges facing veterans who return to civilian life — issues the Núñez sisters understood all too well.

“With one million veterans projected to leave the armed forces between 2012 and 2017, the United States stands at a critical moment. Will we allow another generation of veterans to return from war only to fight an unfair uphill battle in the search for dignified work? Or will this generation of civilians step up to embrace, support and fully utilize the skills and value of returning warriors?” Emily recently asked in a blog post for the Classy Awards, where she’s a fellow.

One sister standing way above other sister in front of the white house

Nunez Sisters

With help from Middlebury’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the company soon snagged a spot in the prestigious Dell Summer Social Innovation Lab , took home first place and the audience choice award at the Harvard Pitch for Change Competition , and launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign that reached its $20,000 goal within hours and went on to amass over $312,000 from more than 1,550 backers last May. That gave the Núñez sisters enough to begin production on their line of bags and accessories, made in partnership with organizations such as Green Vets LA , which trains and employs veterans to silk-screen, assemble and sew the products in Los Angeles.

But when Emily came home from Afghanistan for Christmas to reunite with her family — including her father, Col. (Ret.) Joseph R. Núñez, who had returned after five years in Iraq working for the State Department as a senior adviser — she was overwhelmed by Sword & Plough’s progress.

“When I left, we only had three bags ever made, and when I came back, there were over 2,000,” says Emily, who now serves not only as Sword & Plough’s CEO but also as a second lieutenant U.S. military intelligence officer.

The sisters hope to close the divide between the military experience and civilian life.

The bags are available in three styles ($219 to $289), including a signature rucksack, messenger bag and tote. There are also sturdy sleeves for iPads and iPhones, plus T-shirts. Each bag design is a polished take on the rugged, military look, with army and forest green hues, dark brown leathers and brass hardware. Though fashionable and versatile, these are no ordinary carryalls.

“The great thing about this material is that it’s mildew-resistant and water-repellent,” says Betsy of the rucksack’s cotton sateen fabric, repurposed from shelter half tents — a military staple dating back to the U.S. Civil War.

The bags also make use of breathable nylon bivy covers from military modular sleep systems (think hard-core sleeping bag), as well as laundry bags, military canvas and camouflage cotton. And because the products are made from recycled materials, each is one of a kind.

The Núñez sisters’ hope is that Sword & Plough will not only satisfy your next recon mission for a durable, unique bag, but also help close the divide between the military experience and civilian life.

Says Emily: “I really want to bridge that gap.” 


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