The gun debate reached a fever-pitch last year following the horrific shootings in Aurora, Newtown, and most recently, at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Even some gun enthusiasts are starting to question the government’s regulations on security checks and black market sales.
But now one woman has seemingly placed herself in the middle of the debate in an unconventional way.
Meet Kate Woolstenhulme, the Dallas-based founder of Designer Concealed Carry handbags, a line of bags designed for hiding handguns that is now expanding to include new products.
Since the designer conceal-carry handbags’ release, Woolstenhulme and her wares have been featured by Fashionista and The New Yorker, ( both of which emphasized her unique “placement” in America’s gun debate and her desire to stay as far from the politics of the matter as possible.
In December 2008, Woolstenhulme received her first handgun. As she was anxiously awaiting her open-carry permit, she began shopping for a purse that would fit her weapon. But she says it seemed easier to get the gun than it was to find a stylish (and safe) bag to carry it in. The available options were utilitarian and only came in a few colors.
So she decided to do something about it—and launch her own line of concealed-carry handbags. “My whole focus was not necessarily coming up with the brand-new, latest, hottest handbag styles,” Woolstenhulme told The Daily Beast. “But the concept was coming up with styles that resemble the popular ones—a tote, a hobo—something that’s not distinguishable from one particular designer. [It’s] the basic style of bag that can be adapted for the function.”
Since 2010, when her company officially launched, Woolstenhulme has created a variety of bags featuring the necessary security for gun-carry: dual-locking zippers (making the holster accessible to both lefties and righties, something Woolstenhulme also noticed was missing from other bags) to reach the removable and adjustable holster pocket. The handbags stray far away from the canvas, utilitarian style she had originally found online and at local stores, and instead are available in a range of hues—red, yellow, green, black, tan—and leather, alligator, lizard, and even python skins, all priced between $249 and $4,200.
“My unique spot was my ability to offer a variety,” she says. “The idea is women being able to have the variety they’d get if they walked into any Macy’s or Nordstrom in America and be able to chose their own color and style, and not just be stuck with black and brown.” And women needed a safe way to store their guns, she says, without simply throwing them into their purse. If we have trouble finding our cell phone or our keys when they are buried in our bags, Woolstenhulme says, how could we safely find our guns?
Woolstenhulme’s background in art and design—and later her foray into the aviation business refurbishing private jets with her husband—afforded her the appropriate business-meets-creative mentality to start the company. She also realized that if she was in the market for a stylish-yet-safe holster handbag, other women had to be out there searching for the same thing.
She introduced four styles of handbags when her company began, offering various combinations of color and leather. Soon after her bags were introduced, she recognized that many people, from professional law enforcement females to regular gun owners, had been looking for the same thing she had back in 2008. (Woolstenhulme says one woman asked her, “Where have you been for the last 20 years?”) She insists the idea behind the company was less about promoting gun use and more about women not having to make the choice between carrying their weapon or a stylish handbag. There was now no need to compromise on style or security.
Woolstenhulme says she hasn’t faced any backlash. “I’m not promoting gun ownership or any of that,” she says.
Soon after, she introduced a “luxury” line of bags, featuring exotic skins and colors to increase her audience. “The crocodile and ostrich bags are for women who want to carry a high end-looking bag—and I’m not making knockoff Louis Vuittons,” she says. “That’s not my mission. I’m just making something of a similar type of product. It doesn’t have the same logo or big brand name, but something that has beautiful styling and high-quality materials.”
Now, three years later, she has released a line of evening bags, designed to hide all sizes of handguns, that will be on sale for the holiday season. “Naturally I got a lot of requests for women who didn’t need such a large holster pocket if they’re carrying a very small gun,” she said. “They wanted something where they could just toss in their lipstick and wallet, and that’s all.” Highlighting her own experience, Woolstenhulme says her bag was too large, looking out of place while she was wearing evening attire at an event. That experience has now translated into her latest invention: a smaller bag featuring an adjustable strap. Its chain is woven with leather, giving the bag, as Woolstenhulme describes it, an “evening, glamour look.”
While her stylish gun-carrying bags may seem controversial, Woolstenhulme cites her main goal, above all, as personal security.
Asked if she had received any negative feedback about the venture, especially in light of the recent spate of gun violence, Woolstenhulme says she hasn’t faced any backlash. “I’m not promoting gun ownership or any of that,” she says. “The initial goal was to make something so you can still carry your firearms. But because we have this locking pocket function, the holster’s completely removable.”
Woolstenhulme mentions that the safety function of the purse is not strictly for guns but can be used to hold other security devices as well, including pepper spray or a taser, along with personal items such as a wallet, medication, jewelry, or passport and ID. Woolstenhulme sums up her mission simply: “It’s the whole function of not being a victim.”