A bad local economy forced Urbana native Tyler Davisson to re-enlist in the Army in 2010, but his wife didn’t have a job for a couple of years for entirely different reasons.
Being a military spouse, Carly Davisson, who also grew up in Urbana, found it difficult in the area around Fort Drum, N.Y., to find work.
“They know you’re moving in a couple of years,” Carly Davisson said recently. “They don’t really want to have to replace you.”
Besides, townies near the base, she explained, frequently complained that “military spouses were trying to steal all the jobs.”
Enter R. Riveter, a designer handbag company started in 2011 by two military wives to give military spouses like Carly Davisson flexible — and mobile — employment.
On average, according to R. Riveter, military families are relocated every 2.9 years, making it difficult for the spouses to find jobs of their own.
Davisson, 31, was hired this past January and, like the other “riveters,” makes bag parts at home and then sends them on to be fabricated into a finished purse.
The 2000 Urbana High School graduate, whose husband is now based at Camp Frank D. Merrill near Dahlonega, Ga., spends her free time dyeing leather in the family garage for a line of bags that bear such military-savvy product names as “Mrs. Grant” and “Mrs. Abrams.”
Davisson had seen one of the company’s bags — made using surplus military gear like duffel bags, wool blankets and tents — at a neighbor’s place in military housing.
“I texted her and said, ‘I have to have one of those bags,’” she said.
The company currently employs 15 military spouses across the country and divides them into riveters — those who help construct the bags, like Davisson — and Rosies, the company’s independent sales reps.
Based in Dahlonega, the company obviously takes its name from Rosie the Riveter, the fictional propaganda icon who helped lure millions of women into the workforce during World War II to churn out ships and bombers.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Davisson said.
In fact, when someone asked how much she made, she admittedly wasn’t even sure.
“It does not feel like work,” she said. “It’s like a hobby.”
For Davisson, it’s a chance to do something for herself while at the same time contributing to the family’s income.
The mother of two school-age children from a previous marriage, Davisson said she mostly spent her days after the kids went to school cleaning the house. She got a cat, she said, “so somebody was home with me.”
“I realized I’m always on the sidelines,” she said, “and I’m never doing anything for me.”
Sgt. Tyler Davisson, a 1999 graduate of Urbana High, did six years with the Army as a photographer out of high school before he came home and started working at Rittal.
After her first marriage, Carly migrated back home and ended up working at Rittal as well.
Married in 2009, the Davissons found themselves in a stressful situation a year later as they both faced reduced hours at work while trying to support a family.
“We decided him going back into the service was the best thing for us,” Carly Davisson said.
The only downside was that Tyler Davisson, then 30, was given two career choices — infantry or Special Forces — and neither included holding a camera like he’d hoped.
“He said, ‘OK, I’ll take one for the team.’ A week later, he was gone,” Carly Davisson said.
Assigned at first to the Third Brigade Combat Team at Fort Drum, Tyler Davisson eventually deployed to Afghanistan for a year.
Carly Davisson said she would be happy staying in Georgia, where her husband plays an adversarial role in combat exercises for soldiers training to be Rangers.
But, she imagines they’ll be moved again at some point. If so, she’ll take her new line of work with her.
She’s also likely to be a military spouse for a long time. Tyler Davisson now plans to retire from the Army.
“We’re all in,” she said.