STRENGTH WITH HANDBAGS — Bridge City woman empowers military spouses across the country

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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BRIDGE CITY — In Cameron Cruse’s handbag is more than just keys and a wallet. The Bridge City resident carries with her hope for every military spouse in the country.

It wasn’t what the 35-year-old woman planned. After growing up in Atlanta, she attended school in Georgia to pursue a degree in architecture. While there, she met her husband, a Ranger in the U.S. Army who was stationed at Fort Stewart.

“I had no idea what it meant to be in the military or be a military spouse,” she said. “I just jumped right in.”

In 2011, the couple relocated to an area of Georgia where there wasn’t an opportunity for Cruse to use her degree.

“If I wanted something for myself, I would have to create it,” she said.

While there, she met Lisa Bradley. Both women’s husbands were Ranger instructors at the time.

Bradley had moved four times before the age of 24, unable to start a career with the business degree she had obtained.

“We became fast friends over that shared hardship of being a military spouse,” Cruse said, speaking primarily of finding work. “Your resume goes to the bottom of the pile because in a couple of years you could be gone. We knew from the very beginning that providing some kind of opportunity for military spouses was the ultimate goal. We had never done anything like this before.”

The two began discussing ideas for a mobile business, landing on handbags.

“It’s a great power accessory, and a woman is going to carry her bag with her everywhere,” Cruse said. “It’s a conversation piece.”

They began R. Riveter by contributing approximately $2,000 each — and, she said, not all at once. Together they created a company where military spouses all across the country could purchase a test kit and become entrepreneurs, even with little to no sewing skills.

One bag could have a strap made by one person, a liner made by another and other parts sent in by what’s called Remote Riveters. The parts are then assembled into one bag.

In 2014, they began a Kickstarter campaign that provided additional funds to hire help. In 2015, they opened a retail store in North Carolina, where Cruse was then living while Bradley relocated to New York.

And in 2016, the two appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” to obtain an investor to assist with marketing.

R. Riveter bags were made from recycled material, such as uniforms or military tents. And each came with an identification tag so the person who purchased it could learn about every military spouse who worked to create it.

At the time, a bag that cost $55 to make was sold for $250.

Within five years, they had sold almost $200,000 worth of merchandise.

At the end of their television pitch, Texas billionaire Mark Cuban invested $100,000 for a 20 percent stake in the company.

“Mark seemed to really connect with what we were going to do, our social mission and how we were trying to change the face of manufacturing,” Cruse said.

And to this day, she said, he remains involved.

Now Cruse and Bradley have 24 direct employees at a manufacturing facility in Florida, as well as 15 Remote Riveters making parts and pieces from all across the U.S.

“It’s really been a fascinating ride,” Cruse said. “I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I always wanted that 9-5 paycheck. When we jumped in early, we were building from the ground up without a lot of resources. It’s been a long almost 12 years, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things, and I couldn’t have done it alone.”

While the bags are now made mostly from new material, occasionally they are able to create a special bag with recycled material.

In 2021, Cruse’s husband retired from the military after 22 years, and the couple with two children, ages 12 and 9, relocated to his hometown in Orange County.

“We’re very excited to be back in the Bridge City area,” she said. “This has been very new to me. I didn’t grow up in a small town. It’s been great to get to know everyone. I think Bridge City is a great place to raise a family.”

— Written by Monique Batson