When Emily Nunez Cavness was in college seven years ago in Vermont, she and her sister, Betsy Nunez, launched a plan to start a business that turns excess military gear into handbags. Their company, Sword & Plough, employs veterans and gives a percentage of profits to military charities.
The idea germinated when Emily — then a senior at Middlebury College — attended a lecture that prompted her to think about how to use recycling as part of a business model. The daughter of an Army veteran and herself an ROTC student at the time, Emily gravitated toward a theme connected to the armed forces.
“What in my life is often discarded and could be turned into something beautiful with a purposeful mission?” she asked herself at the time, according to the company’s website.
“I immediately thought about military surplus materials,” Emily tells PEOPLE. “Then I looked around the room and saw that everyone had bags by their side.”
That, she says, was her a-ha moment.
“I thought to myself, ‘We could take these extremely durable materials that have such unique stories and turn them into fashionable bags that anyone would want to use,’ ” she recalls.
Betsy soon signed on as chief operating officer, and the two formed Sword and Plough in 2012, when Emily was 22 and Betsy, 24. Now, they run a thriving mail order business selling bags, jewelry, and accessories.
The bags start out as tents, sleeping bag covers, leather, hardware, canvas, nylon, and old uniforms. The materials are shipped out to veteran-owned or operated manufacturers around the country, where they are turned into the final products. Because they are made out of military grade materials, the bags hold up well to wear, tear, and the elements, the sisters say.
Staying connected to the military community is important to the sisters.
“One of the best parts about Sword & Plough is meeting and working with such inspiring and talented veterans,” Emily says.
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One of the manufacturing partners, for example, is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, and who makes jewelry from .50 caliber shell casings.
Although they are an Army family, the sisters introduced a new “Seas the Day” necklace to honor the U.S. Navy’s 244th Birthday on Oct. 13.
To Emily and Betsy, the upcoming Veterans Day on Nov. 11 has special resonance.
“On this 100th anniversary of Veterans Day, we are so proud to celebrate our nation’s veterans and we are grateful for the support that has helped Sword & Plough donate over $100,000 to veteran organizations, help support over 75 veteran jobs, and repurpose over 30,000 pounds of military surplus,” Emily says. “Every Sword & Plough purchase enables us to empower veteran employment and give back to the veteran community.”
Sword & Plough is offering PEOPLE readers 20% percent off all orders, with code PEOPLE20.
For more on the Nunez sisters and other inspiring stories about the veteran community, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.