The harsh lessons that came early in life for Lisa Bass led to a pattern of late starts in her adult endeavors, but as evidence that bad fortune can sometimes turn good, those combined experiences were a formula for career success.
“I made some bad choices in my life, and I know that I was able to learn from my mistakes,” Bass said.
Among the positive outcomes in that turnaround was a grant from a center at Texas Woman’s University that helped veteran women entrepreneurs rebound from financial hardship during the pandemic.
It’s been a whirlwind life so far, one that started in the chaotic household she grew up in, with an alcoholic mother and a church deacon father. Bass dropped out of high school at 16 and ended up homeless in her 20s as a single mother of three.
But in a dramatic change of fortune, she enlisted in the U.S. Army and a series of doors opened for her, leading to stints in the Judge Advocate Corps, as a combat and construction engineer and ultimately as the first female commander in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. By that time, she was a grandmother.
Along the way, she earned a bachelor’s degree in government and a master’s degree in public policy and administration.
She started her own construction company while still enlisted. She retired as an Army major, then embarked on ventures in which she co-authored the book, “In Her Boots” — a life-skills tome that aims to curb sexual assault in the military — and started a new business.
Her latest endeavor, Combat Boots Jewelry, pays homage to fellow women in military service and seeks to connect female service leaders with their younger active-duty counterparts to help them navigate the military environment.
The company manufactures jewelry depicting combat boots to commemorate men’s and women’s military service. Bass developed her own unique line and secured manufacturing and trademarks for her pieces.
She said her business is particularly focused on women, to help build a stronger culture of mentoring among female service members, and to help them avoid common problems outlined in her book and inherent in their ranks, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“We’ve learned that just in speaking with another woman, there’s a greater sense of security and belonging,” Bass said, adding, “An 18-year-old will interpret a situation differently than a senior female leader.”
Like many other businesses, Combat Boots Jewelry struggled financially during the pandemic, Bass said. “We had to put a hold on manufacturing, and frankly, it didn’t seem right marketing jewelry at a time when many people were struggling to pay bills,” she said.
When business conditions improved, her company was slow to rebound. But she applied for and won a grant from the inaugural Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant program funded by the Center for Women Entrepreneurs at Texas Woman’s University, which earlier this year awarded 27 grants up to $10,000 for businesses owned by women veterans. The center plans to award another round of grants in 2022.
The grant allowed Bass to purchase engraving equipment and inventory, and the financial boost helped her company pursue vendor events again in 2021. She says many women are instantly drawn to her concept jewelry, because the combat boots often spark conversation among veterans. That was precisely her aim.
“When you see the jewelry, you feel it,” Bass said. “And then you buy it.”