Meet Emily Núñez Cavness, former U.S. Army Captain & Co-Founder and CEO of Sword & Plough, a socially conscious fashion company. Emily channeled her passion for social entrepreneurship, civil-military relations, veteran empowerment, and sustainable design to embody the core values of Sword & Plough. Inspired by her experiences at the U.S. Army Airborne School and childhood growing up in a military family, Emily and her sister Betsy co-founded Sword & Plough in 2012!
What called you to the fashion industry?
My excitement around Sword & Plough and our mission to empower veteran employment, strengthen civil-military understanding, and reduce waste through stylish bags and accessories is what led me to the fashion industry. The “aha moment” for Sword & Plough occurred when I was a senior at Middlebury College and attended a talk at the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Several experiences from my life collided including growing up in a military family, being inspired to serve from seeing my dad’s, uncle’s, and cousin’s impactful military careers, being the only Army ROTC cadet at Middlebury and wanting to bridge the civil-military divide, as well as empower veteran employment.
I asked myself what in my life is sometimes discarded that could be harnessed and turned into something beautiful with a powerful mission? Immediately, I thought of military surplus. Then, as I looked around the room and saw my fellow students, I realized every person had a bag of some kind next to them. I thought, we could take these extremely durable materials that have such unique stories and turn them into fashionable bags that anyone would want to use. Next, I thought about who would be involved in the process and it made complete sense to incorporate veterans at every stage from design to manufacturing to fulfillment and sales. My mind was running so quickly and together with my sister Betsy, we knew this was an idea we had to pursue!
How has your military background shaped your business and work ethic?
The military trains service members to be organized, resilient, adaptable, leaders and communicators who are able to work as a team to problem solve. From deploying to Afghanistan, and serving in a Special Forces unit, to trying out as one of the first 100 women for the U.S. Army’s Ranger Training Assessment Course, all of these experiences taught me leadership skills that have helped me lead at Sword & Plough as well.
What are some lessons you learned in launching your own business?
I’ve learned that things often take longer than planned (especially in the beginning), that it’s important to build a community of mentors and advisors that you can go to for advice, and that it’s very important to surround yourself with a dedicated and skilled team that is committed to and excited about your mission.
What was the best piece of business advice you were ever given and how did you apply it to Sword & Plough?
Our dad gave us some great advice when we first launched Sword & Plough and things were especially busy, and that advice was to focus on the top three most time sensitive priorities and then move on to the next. This has been really helpful advice that we are able to apply every day.
What are some of your biggest successes you have experienced?
Sword & Plough has been very fortunate to receive several honors from being named by Business Insider as One of the Top 20 Most Inspiring Companies of 2014 as well as One of the Coolest Companies of 2015. We’ve also been honored at the White House, were named Forbes 30 Under 30 Fellows, raised over 15x our goal on Kickstarter, placed 1st in business pitch competitions at Harvard and Middlebury College, as well as contests sponsored by FedEx, Eileen Fisher, and MassChallenge, We’re also very proud that we’ve continually donated 10% of our profits to veterans organizations each year and have also donated over $30,000 worth of in kind Sword & Plough products to veteran charities. Some personal experiences that I’m especially proud of include serving in the Army, building a company with my sister that gives back to the community that raised us, mentoring other veteran entrepreneurs, and appearing on the cover of Women’s Health magazine as the “ultimate game changer.”
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing their passions?
I would advise anyone who is thinking about pursuing a new idea to ask themselves, “What makes you really excited to start the day and how can you use that excitement to help others?” Once you get started down this exciting and purposeful new path, it’s also important to stay focused, persevere, and find a community of friends, industry colleagues, and mentors that encourage you.
What is your personal or professional motto and how do you apply it to your life?
I like the simple motto of being positive. I try to be positive and apply that mindset at every opportunity because, I think there is so much more we can accomplish and have fun doing so if we keep that in mind.