All-American: Sisters Turn Military Surplus Into Fashionable Small Business to Employ Veterans

Made in America is more than a company slogan for a couple of army brats who held onto an idea conceived in college to create a small business that recycles military trash into fashionable bags, jewelry and purses.

But, Emily Núñez Cavness and her sister, Betsy, do more than transform old military tents, parachutes and 50-caliber shell casings into civilian treasures. The company they founded and operate, Sword & Plough, employs military veterans throughout the manufacturing process — from design, to sewing, to management, sales and modeling

If that weren’t enough, along with donating dozens of the accessories to charities, Sword & Plough forwards 10 percent of the company’s profits to nonprofit veteran’s organizations across the United States. The Núñez sisters figure Sword & Plough has recycled more than 35,000 pounds of military surplus and supported more than 65 veteran jobs.

Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. military veterans like Núñez Cavness return to civilian life. And like the former Army captain who completed a tour in Afghanistan, 10 percent – a survey shows — would like to own a small business. And some — at least 25 million businesses in the United States are majority-owned by veterans – go on to fulfill those dreams. But, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, 75 percent of U.S. veterans struggle to find the capital they need to get going.

Any new venture, at some point, needs assistance. Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of and, said veterans determined to start their own business can identify funding opportunities on that are targeted specifically to men and women who served their country. MWBEzone, an ancillary service of GrantWatch, lists grants for small businesses, particularly those owned by women, minorities and veterans.

Emily Núñez Cavness encourages other veterans to check out grant competitions like she did as well as crowdsourcing to help get their businesses off the ground. She said her time in the military prepared her to lead a company. Those designs started at an early age, when she was influenced by her father, an Army quartermaster for 30 years who went onto teach political science at the U.S. Military Academy. Núñez Cavness followed in his footsteps and joined the ROTC program at the University of Vermont.

Motivation behind Sword & Plough was spawned after the cadet attended a social entrepreneurship symposium. Not long after, Núñez Cavness won a business plan competition followed by a mentorship and a grant to get Sword & Plough started. But more money was needed to fund the company’s first preorder. Before Núñez Cavness deployed, the Sword & Plough team turned to crowdfunding, which raised more than $310,000 from supporters across the globe.

Betsy Núñez and Emily Núñez Cavness have come a long way since. Although the unemployment rate for veterans is down slightly to 3.4 percent, the sisters hope to continue to grow the company brand and give back to the military community that, they say, has given them so much.

For-profit entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses, particularly minority-, veteran- and women-owned, frustrated by the often-overwhelming process involved with searching for grants can identify funding opportunities that are easy to read and simple to comprehend at By registering, subscribers gain access to both and GrantWatch.

About the Author: Staff Writer for


Leave a Reply