December 1, 2021

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Five veteran-run businesses you can feel good about supporting this Veterans Day

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Launched by Marine Corps veteran Michael Loyd Jr. in 2018, along with Stace and Chel Loyd, Dope Coffee “focuses on coffee-oriented products created by and for Black people and anyone interested in Black culture,” according to Daily Coffee News

Loyd says he first tasted specialty coffee courtesy of Green Bean Coffee at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan not long after he enlisted in 2010.

After leaving Afghanistan, Loyd was stationed at Camp Pendelton in San Diego, California, where he bought and ran a small, drive-through coffee kiosk called Solar Cafe. “I learned the basics of the coffee game, and I saw that coffee can heal through conversation,” Loyd says in a LinkedIn post. 

After leaving the military in 2017, Loyd says he was “depressed, suicidal, and dealing with PTSD and barely holding on.” He says the racism he felt under Trump’s presidency was unlike anything he’d experienced. He and his wife Chel picked up and moved to an all-Black neighborhood in Atlanta to begin their life anew. 

Loyd started writing and producing hip-hop music under the stage name Creative Mike The Rapper. He explained the company’s beginnings to Forbes:

“Dope Coffee on day one…was going to be a counter-drug brand. It was like literally, let’s take a drug, which is coffee, well the caffeine in it, and let’s sell that and then let’s just teach more people in our communities to sell that, instead of drugs…but then it just started morphing…Black people, our culture is very ‘dope.’ Everything about it. So, when you take that word…it’s a loaded word to use…look at where we are today. I don’t think there’s any benefit to us having gone through [slavery] but if you look at it and see where we are today, I think it’s amazing.”

Founded by Air Force veteran Frederick Hutson in 2013, this app has connected more than 300,000 incarcerated people to more than 1.5 million people “on the outside,” Verizon.com reports. And it has saved the families of inmates as much as $10 million annually in communication costs. 

While service 51 months in prison, Frederick learned that the $1.2 billion inmate communication industry created connections that were costly and complex. “It’s one of those things where you don’t really understand how it works until you experience it or someone you care about experiences it,” Hutson tells Verizon. 

Hutson says the emotional difference incarcerated people feel when they a letter or call from family means the world, so inmates can feel especially distraught when calls are more than the average utility bill or letters are lost or destroyed in the mail. 

In 2019, Pigeonly served 58,000 inmates and 76,000 loved ones across the nation. Families can use the flat rate of $18 for 300 minutes, equaling about 6 cents a minute, to talk with their inmates by phone, saving them nearly $100 a month on average for the same amount of time. 

“One of the problems I’m addressing is making poverty less expensive,” he says. “The truth is that some people are sent to jail simply because they can’t make $500 bail, then they lose their job because they are in jail.” That’s the start of an unbreakable cycle, now add in cutting off communication with family and loved ones, and the results can be lasting and emotionally damaging. 

“Building a company requires you to have a clear vision of where you want to go so you can manage long and short-term goals simultaneously. This is a skill I learned very early in my military career,” Hutson tells Forbes.

Pigeonly has grown since its inception and now offers users the option of uploading photos and letters from their mobile phones. Pigeonly can print and ship them in a way that meets each prison’s various mailing regulations. Families can also design personalized postcards and greeting cards in the app to be printed and sent.

“If you can’t stay in touch, who’s going to give you that couch to sleep on when you are released?” Frederick asks Verizon. “Who’s going to help you find that first job and drive you to the DMV to get your license again? People get lost in the system, and they get forgotten about until their release date comes, and they are thrown back on the street” without a support system.

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The idea of Rumi Spice was born in March of 2013 when Army veteran Kimberly Jung was speaking with fellow veteran Keith Alaniz. Alaniz told Jung about a local saffron farmer he’d met when serving in Afghanistan. The man had a warehouse full of the pricy spice, but no buyers to sell to overseas. 

“I was very surprised to find out it grows the best in the climates of Afghanistan with hot winds and dry climate,” Jung told NPR’s The Salt. “So, I immediately thought, hey, this could be an awesome business opportunity.”

Jung and Alaniz teamed up with four friends, also veterans, and quickly realized that not only could they sell In the U.S., but while doing that, maybe they could create a market for saffron—a way to replace the poppy farmers were being forced to grow to fund the Taliban. 

“Without investment in agriculture, Afghan farmers have little prospects with shrinking land allotments – making them susceptible to the Taliban,” the group’s website reads. “Rumi Spice strives to change this dynamic.”

Since its foundation, Rumi has grown its offerings to sell such unique spices as black cumin, coriander, and fennel. Rumi also offers a wide array of spice blends. One of them is baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend that includes the company’s black cumin along with black pepper, cassia, nutmeg, paprika, coriander, cardamom, and clove.

Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley are military spouses who created a one-of-a-kind handbag company. The concept is that military spouses across the country fabricate the various parts of the handbags at home and then ship them to Georgia for assembly. 

“Each handbag features durable materials—from uniforms, tents, and blankets—sourced from government surplus or, when possible, directly from service members,” Bradley tells Southern Living. “Rosie the Riveter embodies everything that we stand for. Our mission is a bit more modern, but her spirit and ‘we can do it’ attitude still apply.”

Each military spouse is sent the leather and textiles they need to cut and dye. Once completed, pieces are sent to the home base in Georgia, where the items are stitched together. 

Each bag or wallet is stamped with a number corresponding to the name of a military spouse who created it. Their first names and duty stations are listed on the R. Riveter website.

Seattle native and Army Ranger veteran Matthew “Griff” Griffin was working as a government contractor in Afghanistan, setting up medical clinics, the day he toured a combat boot factory and saw a flip-flop thong punched through the sole of a combat boot. He tells ABC News he went back to his hotel room and registered the domain name CombatFlipFlops.com that night. 

“Our concept was to create flip-flops in a combat boot factory in Afghanistan,” Griffin tells ABC. 

“The one thing that I saw when I was traveling around to Asia, Africa, all throughout the Middle East, Persia, was that small businesses were really the sustainable driving factor,” he said.

The concept of not only making the flip flops using heavy-duty combat boot rubber but making them in Afghanistan turned out to be a lot more challenging than Griffin thought. After a couple of failed attempts, Griffin moved production to his garage in Seattle, where his co-founders Andy Sewrey, 42, and fellow soldier Donald Lee, 39, turned his garage into a factory and made 4,000 pairs of sandals themselves, and eventually moved production to Colombia. 

Today, the company has expanded beyond flip-flops and into sarongs and shemaghs at a women-run factor in Kabul, Afghanistan, where a portion of the proceeds go toward the education of women in secondary school. 



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