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Military textiles to be recycled into high-end bags
Jul '13
A team of six recent college graduates has come up with an innovative way to prevent functional finish chemistries from entering the environment by using tons of US Army textiles destined for landfills to make high end bags.

Led by the daughters of a retired US Army Colonel, the team has formed a company called Sword & Plough that sews and sells backpacks, messenger bags, and a large carry-all. All are made from surplus US military tents and sleeping bags destined for landfills or incineration.

Offering a recycling model that can be used with fabric-related military surplus from around the world, this potentially extends the life of unused military textiles.

The new bags also have the benefit of functional finishes such as water resistance, fire resistance, and UV protection. By turning excess military textiles into consumer facing products, the chemistries used to provide those finishes may not end up going into the environment.

Sword & Plough, which commenced operations in January of this year (but had been incubating for a few years prior to launch) has already sold 20,000 items through Kickstarter, a crowd sourcing website that helps entrepreneurs raise start-up capital. During Sword & Plough’s Kickstarter campaign, the company promised one of their products in exchange for a pledge.

Their initial goal was to sell 20,000 bags over a period of several weeks, but within two hours of launching their Kickstarter site this spring, met their goal. In all, Sword & Plough raised $312,000 through Kickstarter.

On July 4, the company began taking pre-orders for products through their website store front. With the bulk of the Kickstarter capital being invested in inventory, they anticipate being able to ship out products within 24 to 48 hours of getting an order by this fall.

According to Haik Kavookjian, the company’s communications director, Sword & Plough is based on a social business model that has what he describes as a “quadruple bottom line.” It’s a concept the Kickstarter crowd found compelling, and rests on what the young entrepreneurs behind this company describe as their commitment to four P’s: people, planet, profits, and purpose.

This includes 1) helping people by hiring vets who are out of work; 2) saving the planet, by repurposing unused surplus army tents and parachutes that would otherwise be burned or buried in a landfill; 3) making a profit so the company is sustainable; and 4) doing it all with a sense of purpose, which for them includes supporting organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides a wide variety of support services to injured US military veterans.

They also hope to create a dialogue between military and non-military communities in the US by drawing attention to the many issues being faced by returning US military veteran, plus they are committed to doing all of the manufacturing in the US.

Currently, the bags are manufactured in the US in Denver and Los Angeles by companies that employ US military veterans. According to Kavookjian, the Los Angeles facility is associated with a US Veterans Administration Hospital rehabilitation program.

Sword & Plough is currently outsourcing product assembly. “Another option is to set up our own facility and manage the manufacturing process on our own, but that’s a pretty big capital investment,” Kavookjian says. But whether outsourcing, or launching their own factory, “the hope is that we will continue to hire as many vets as possible.”


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