‘Shark Tank’ success story expands to DC

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BETHESDA, Md. (WRIC) — Shoppers pack the new R. Riveter store near the nation’s capital.  It is the day of the company’s grand opening at this location, and it is definitely a milestone moment.

“They’re amazed by the mission and what we’re doing,” Stacy Selken says about the men and woman who are browsing and making purchases.

Selken lives in Springfield, Virginia now but has lived in eight towns in her sixteen years as an Army wife.  All the moving halted her promising fashion merchandising career for fifteen years, but Selken was able to find a fresh start at R. Riveter in 2015.

R. Riveter's post-Shark Tank success allowed it to open this new store near Washington, DC earlier this month.
R. Riveter’s post-Shark Tank success allowed it to open this new store near Washington, DC earlier this month.

“Military spouses are doing their part for our country,” says R. Riveter CEO Lisa Bradley.  “It looks completely different.  We’re not the ones wearing the uniform, but we’re doing our part too.”

Bradley co-founded R. Riveter in 2011 with Cameron Cruse while their husbands were stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.  They could not find jobs despite having Master’s Degrees, so the duo looked to an iconic image for inspiration.

“Rosie the Riveter,” Bradley remembers with a smile.  “We can do it.”

Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse started R. Riveter in a Georgia attic in 2011. (Photo: R. Riveter)
Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse started R. Riveter in a Georgia attic in 2011. (Photo: R. Riveter)

Two credit cards and the women’s own $4,000 investment later, the company of two started in an attic.  Bradley and Cameron re-purposed military tents, blankets and uniforms into high-end handbags.  Their husbands got assignments outside Georgia, so the women also moved.  In 2014, they launched a Kickstarter campaign and opened a retail space near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Shark Tank came calling in February 2016.

“And how was the Shark Tank experience?,” 8News Anchor Amy Lacey asks Bradley.

“Since then it’s just been a whirlwind,” Bradley explains.  “Our company is now five times the size of what it was last year.”

R. Riveter employs 57 military spouses across the country, including Virginia, to handle the business side and actual handcrafting of the handbags.  Their jobs then move wherever government duty takes them.

“Giving them a mission of their own and empowering them through mobile income,” Bradley describes how R. Riveter supports spouses who often move every one to three years.

Since Shark Tank, R. Riveter has also been able to expand its Post to Pillar effort, which offers military spouse and veteran-run companies a market to sell their specialties.

“This right here is from Southern Elegance,” Selken shows candles to a group of women picking up each one to breathe in the scents.

Selken is not surprised R. Riveter bags sold out for months post-Shark Tank, and the demand continues to grow.  She is now overseeing the new store in the Washington, DC area and is living proof of the company’s dream.

R. Riveter's handbags sold out for several months post-Shark Tank.
R. Riveter’s handbags sold out for several months post-Shark Tank.

“If you work hard and you’re passionate about what you want to do in life, anything is possible,” Selken says.

Adds Bradley, “We really hope this is just the start of more stores across the country.  With every store we open, that means more opportunity for military spouses.”

The new R. Riveter store is located at Westfield Montgomery shopping complex in Bethesda, Maryland, and it is giving back in another way to.  Monthly rent payments for the retail space go to a program supporting military veterans.

The Season 8 premiere of Shark Tank is September 23.  The show airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on WRIC-TV 8News.

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