By Veterans, For Veterans: Handbags That Change Lives [Q&A]

Emily Núñez Cavness’ brand, Sword & Plough, merges social entrepreneurship, civil-military relations, veteran empowerment, and sustainable design.

Apr 21, 2016
Emily Núñez Cavness is the co-founder and CEO of Sword & Plough

Emily Núñez Cavness is the co-founder and CEO of Sword & Plough

Emily Núñez Cavness always wanted to be a soldier. Growing up in a military family, spending Thanksgiving dinners in the mess halls of army bases, living at West Point - these were the experiences that inspired her to become a US Army officer. But Cavness is now serving her country in more ways than one. She’s also the CEO and co-founder of Sword & Plough, a socially conscious brand that works with US manufacturers who employ veterans. The company recycles military surplus, incorporates that fabric into stylish bag designs and donates 10 percent of profits back to veteran organizations.

Reintegrating into society after military service can be challenging. More often than not, one of those challenges is gaining employment. That’s why Cavness makes sure to incorporate veterans in every stage of her business - as designers, managers, sewers, quality control experts and even models.

In this week’s 10 Good Questions, Cavness gives us an inside look into the inspiration behind and impact of Sword & Plough.

1. What is your organization’s mission?

Sword & Plough’s mission is to empower veteran employment, strengthen civil-military understanding, and reduce waste.  

2. What makes you guys different from the rest?

We decided to incorporate a lifecycle business model by empowering and giving back to the original users of our products’ materials. To our team, it just made sense. Sword & Plough supports and creates veteran job opportunities within our own company and also within our suppliers and U.S. manufacturing partners. Additionally, we support veteran entrepreneurship by partnering with veteran owned businesses. We have veterans in every stage of our business from product design, to sewing, quality control, management, and even lookbook models.

3. What three words describe your organization?

Innovative, Committed, Inspired.

Sword & Plough work with US manufacturers who employ veterans

Sword & Plough works with U.S. manufacturers who employ veterans

4. What inspires you?

I am inspired by people who are committed to helping others, and I'm very grateful to have many inspiring mentors in my life, from my parents and grandparents to the men and women I serve alongside in the Army, and especially my current unit, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). I’ve also been very fortunate to receive mentorship and guidance from professors at Middlebury College and from the Sword & Plough board of advisors, which includes the former CEO and Chairman of Hasbro Toys, Alan Hassenfeld. I'm also very inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, who I was honored to meet at the first military Lean In Circle this past fall at the Pentagon alongside my mentor, Major Laura Keenan.

5. Who's your favorite good doer figure?

Three of my favorite good doer figures are Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, Dr. Charles MacCormack, the Executive-in-Residence at Middlebury College and former President and CEO of Save the Children, and Mike Erwin, the Founder of Team Red, White, and Blue and The Positivity Project. How can you pick just one!?

6. What is the best part about your job?

The best part of my job is working on a social mission I believe in 100%, which gives back to a community that I know so well and greatly admire and respect. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to lead soldiers in the U.S. Army, while I simultaneously get to lead the Sword & Plough team with my close friends and family.

7. How do you measure success within your organization?

Sword & Plough's success is measured by pounds of military surplus repurposed, jobs supported, conversations started, and dollars donated back to veteran organizations.  

8. Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook: The platform allows us to share content with our fans and get real-time feedback through likes, shares and comments. We love how active our Facebook community is!

Sword & Plough backpack

Sword & Plough produces handbags, backpacks, and accessories all from recycled army materials 

9. What do you want Goodnet users to know about your organization?

Sword & Plough started because our team noticed social challenges in our community and nation, and realized we had an innovative way to help solve those problems. We've made it this far as a result of our commitment to our ideas, our teamwork, and support from mentors and the Sword & Plough community. I encourage all aspiring entrepreneurs to take a first step to turn their ideas into realities. Whether that is sharing the idea with a friend, making a prototype, or brainstorming with post-it notes, taking the first step is the most important part in the journey.

10. How can people get involved?

We hope Sword & Plough inspires everyone to believe in and act on their dreams and passions. We are proud that our bags spur conversations that begin based on the high quality nature of our products, lead to sharing Sword & Plough’s mission, and end with the mention of an inspiring veteran in someone’s life. We invite you to learn more about Sword & Plough at or join our Facebook community.

Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.