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November 24, 2017
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Sword & Plough iPhone sleeve. Source: vimeo.com.

Thousands of discarded tents, sleeping bags and parachutes are being given a new lease of life in the unlikely world of fashion design. Emerging brand, Sword & Plough, is making use of discarded military supplies and turning them into stylish accessories. 

One of Heather Heron's repurposed clutches.
Source: concreteflower.se.

Launched in 2012, the brand is the brainchild of sisterly duo Emily and Betsy Nunez, who were inspired by their personal experiences with military life.

The sisters were born at the United States Military Academy, West Point, due to their father's involvement in the United States Army. After growing up around servicemen and women and witnessing daily military activity, Emily herself went on to serve in the army, an experience which opened her eyes to the thousands of military supplies going to waste every year.

Combining their concern for the waste generated by the military and their desire to raise awareness of the work of the country's servicemen and women, they found the answer in fashion.

Sword & Plough takes discarded military supplies and redesigns them into fashionable bags and accessories. The materials are aesthetically enhanced with locally produced leather accents and all manufacturing is done entirely in America. The result is, "rugged, refined and relevant" fashion, according to the company website.

The Signature Urban Ruck is described as the "go to" bag in the military. Olive green in colour, the unisex bag is made out of discarded gortex sleeping bags, canvas tents and parachutes. Other designs include messenger bags, tote bags, iPad and iPhone sleeves. The classic designs are dutifully reminiscent of their military origins.

The Sword & Plough Signature Urban Ruck.
Source: refreshed.is.

But, their business initiative does not end with the sale of their products. The sisters were motivated to raise awareness of military life to people who do not personally know anyone serving in the army. The sisters wanted to, "...create something that would emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives and remind them, in a beautiful way, of the challenges our country and servicemen face, and the power that every person has to help."

The sisters believe that the accessibility of ex-military materials by the public strengthens the understanding of the armed forces, creating awareness of distant conflicts and those involved in them. The website lists the recycled military items used for many of the products, gently reminding the consumer of their new bag's origins.

The company also employs retired veterans through a collaboration with non-profit job training organisation Green Vets Los Angeles, which aims to help veterans successfully return to the work force after returning from service. The costs of manufacturing the bags go straight to the salaries of the employed veterans, creating a host of new jobs for veterans embarking on the transition back from soldier to civilian.

Related: Christopher Raeburn and "Remade in Britain".

Sword & Plough is not the only company making use of discarded military supplies. The concept draws distinct parallels to the designs of Christopher Raeburn, who made his name by creating collections out of military fabrics, in particular his iconic outerwear made from discarded parachutes.

The sisters wanted to, "...create something that would emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives.

With a distinctive British patriotism (having embraced the tagline "Remade in England"), Raeburn prioritises functional materials, making military fabrics, with their necessary UV resistance, fire and water-proof nature, ideal for durable outerwear.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2009, Raeburn cites two reasons for using military materials: "Firstly, it is functional and waterproof. Secondly, the military always has to overproduce its garments, so there are warehouses with thousands of square feet of military surplus sitting around. For me, giving that a new lease of life is very interesting."

Repurposing military wear is also a personal interest shared by Californian-based designer Heather Heron. In her second collection for Spring 2011, Heron took vintage Swedish army fabrics and repurposed them into ultra-durable accessories such as laptop sleeves, clutches and shoulder bags. Speaking to Goodlifer about her inspiration for the collection, Heron said, "To take one simple thing of beauty that already exists on the planet and design a collection from its roots. All five pieces in the collection are designed and built from the one style of vintage army bag."

The biblical phrase from which Sword & Plough's name originates refers to the idea of refraining from violence and turning to peaceful solutions. Similarly, these designs are creating connections between civilians and the armed forces, but also allowing peace to grow from items of conflict. The transition from war supplies to fashion accessories and clothes is more than just design, it provides a spark for public insight into the realities of war.

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