“Where’s your flag?” is the motto for veteran owned and operated Flags of Valor in Ashburn.
Founded last year by retired special operations pilot Brian Steorts, 39, Flags of Valor specializes in creating handcrafted American flags on wood plank canvases. The idea came about after Steorts realized the opportunity for vets like him to honor the flag and members of the U.S. armed forces who have served in combat.
After completing eight consecutive combat deployments in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Steorts took early retirement to recover from a service-related injury.
While in recovery, Steorts suffered from depression and looked for an outlet to focus his mind. Throughout his military career he was surrounded by symbols of military service and patriotism, but during his recovery the American flag was nowhere to be found.
“During recovery I didn’t wear the flag or uniform I had during all my years of service,” Steorts said. “I wanted a flag in my house.”
He was disappointed that most of the flags he liked were made or manufactured in foreign countries.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why do I have to get an American flag from China?” he explained.
Steorts took things into his own hands and started making wood-based flags.
“The first flag didn’t come out so good, so I kept trying and making new ones until I found a design and pattern that I liked,” he said. The first flag he made still hangs in his store in Ashburn.
Handcrafting flags was a way for Steorts to mend his mind while his body healed.
“It’s very therapeutic,” he said. “The cutting, the painting, the whole thing from start to finish.”
Steorts was determined to turn his passion into a business and had one type of worker in mind – fellow combat veterans.
“We believe ‘Made in the USA’ is important and that America’s veterans are our greatest resource,” said Steorts. “That’s why we only source American suppliers and craft every product by hand.”
Flags of Valor’s staff numbers six craftsmen, each a service-injured veteran.
Working side-by-side with fellow veterans gives them an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
“We sometimes have our struggles,” Steorts said. “If a guy’s having a difficult day, we understand that.”
Steorts is not alone in this type of venture. About 2.4 million veterans nationwide own their own businesses. Together this represents about eight million employees, $1.2 trillion in sales and almost ten percent of all small business, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
All products used in the production of each flag, including wood and paint, come from American-owned companies. Raw wood comes from southern pine forests, and is crafted into planks. The planks are then stained and painted before undergoing an antiquing process to accentuate the natural pine canvas.
“The crafting of each flag is a 15-step process,” said Steorts. “They’re made in batches and it can take between three days and a week to complete.”
The number being made depends on demand.
Not only is the production process specialized, but each flag receives a name, which shines light on American military wars and first-responder events.
“We also want to teach people about the birth of our nation and about American history.” Steorts said. “Many of our flags are named after a U.S. military battle. There’s ‘Doolittle,’ ‘Midway’ and ‘Iwo Jima,’” for example.
Flags are also named in honor of first responders and law enforcement personnel and operations. The ‘Thin Blue Line,’ which features a blue stripe within a black and white flag, is dedicated to the heritage and history of law enforcement.
The company also makes donations to charities and families of fallen officers.
“We donate one or two flags a week to firehouses and law enforcement in Loudoun County, and at local fundraisers,” Steorts said.
Flags of Valor also helps non-profit organizations through fundraising. Live auctions of their flags raised $10,000 in April for Luke’s Wings, a Washington-based organization helping wounded warriors and veterans. In May, the company helped donate $23,000 for the PenFed Foundation’s Night of Heroes Gala, and $12,000 to Children’s National. The company also donates ten percent of its sales to other charities, including Officer Down Memorial Page.
Flags are sold at prices from $149 to $399 depending on style and size, the largest of which is ‘Omaha Beach’ at 33 inches tall by 64 inches wide.
Steorts not only has a job he loves, but has also fulfilled his dream of employing fellow veterans. He sees the business continuing to grow and wants to employ more veterans.
“We’re all proud veterans,” said Steorts. “Our goal is to give as many veterans a job as we can.”