Nadine Noky, a veteran of the Iraq war, was sick of never seeing any apparel for women vets.
"I used to walk into stores and see the giant red, white, and blue veteran men's shirts with eagles all over and think, Why is there no vet apparel for women? How do I let people know I'm a vet?," Noky told BuzzFeed News.
So in March 2014, the Venice, Florida, native learned how to screen print and started Lady Brigade, which she believes is the first and only female veterans clothing line.
"People have an idea of what a veteran looks like: a guy coming from Iraq or Afghanistan, a WWII Vet," Noky said. "They don't think of women."
Women now make up about 15.7% of the military, the largest portion in history. Noky believes it's time for the classic image of a veteran to change.
The 29-year-old said that she's often approached while wearing the shirts by people surprised she's a veteran.
Noky was in the military from 2002 to 2007 and left the military as a specialist. She was deployed to Iraq in 2005, four months after the birth of her son, Sean.
She now single-handedly runs the company out of her house in Florida where she lives with Sean, now 10 years old.
"I wanted to stay away from red, white, and blue. I didn’t want any eagles, I didn’t want stars. I wanted to make shirts women will actually want to wear," Noky said.
She designs and prints all the shirts herself, runs and designs the website and blog, and personally packages and sends each shirt.
Before it was ever a clothing company, Lady Brigade was a Facebook group for women vets to address concerns and take part in the female veteran community, and it still serves that purpose.
"Everything in the veteran community is so separate, you don't generally know there are any other women vets around. So I wanted to start a community where we could find each other," Noky said.
She added, "Many women vets don't self-identify as veterans. Some don't even know they are veterans. They just don't associate themselves with the idea of it the way men do."
Noky, who is currently organizing the first-ever Women Veterans Conference, has been told by other women veterans that she and Lady Brigade are "an inspiration" and that her clothes make them feel proud.
"Women aren't proud enough to go around telling everyone they're veterans like men do, but they should," she said. "So now we can wear it on our chests. Literally."
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at email@example.com.
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