When Kate Woolstenhulme walks out of the grocery store, she does so with vigilance. Woolstenhulme keeps a handgun securely tucked inside her purse, which also has room for pepper spray and a laser pointer capable of inducing temporary blindness.
Woolstenhulme began carrying a gun in 2008, around the time of Barack Obama’s presidential election. She looked high and low for a purse that met her fashion and safety standards. After a particularly disappointing shopping trip, she had an epiphany.
“I cannot be the only woman standing in Saks Fifth Avenue wishing I could buy one of these beautiful handbags and also carry my handgun,” Woolstenhulme says. “I came up with the idea basically out of desperation for myself, but I thought there had to be other women like me.”
“You’re either all in or you’re all out,” Kate Woolstenhulme says. “You cant just put your toe in the water if you’re going to carry a handgun.”
Woolstenhulme, who has also worked in the private jet business and real estate, decided to get into fashion about four years ago. The Dallas resident introduced her first product in late 2009, and her concealed carry handbag business has been growing ever since.
“Once you make the decision that you’re going to carry a handgun, all those wonderful purses that you had in your closet that went with all your outfits, you can’t use them anymore because it’s not really safe,” she says.
Woolstenhulme never really considered leaving her gun at home. After all, the point of a concealed handgun license is to have it at the ready.
“You’re either all in or you’re all out,” she says. “You cant just put your toe in the water if you’re going to carry a handgun.”
Woolstenhulme’s handbags come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, but they all have a dual-locking zipper and a built-in, adjustable holster. Prices range from around $300 to $4,000. For those who aren’t packing heat, the locking compartment can be used to store medication, cash or nonlethal weapons.
Woolstenhulme says she’s never had to whip out her piece in a tactical maneuver, but she’s fully prepared to do so. In addition to her CHL class, she’s taken self-defense and role-playing courses where she practiced drawing her gun and training it on a suspect.
“You just think about if anyone had had a gun in her handbag at the movie theater in Colorado or the parking lot where Gabby Giffords was shot,” Woolstenhulme says. “These things don’t normally happen, but you never know so that’s why you’re always prepared.”
Woolstenhulme advocates hyper-awareness at all times. She doesn’t take much stock in conventional safety theories, such as having your keys in your hand in the parking lot.
“If you have your keys in your hand, someone could come up behind you and whack your wrist really hard and take them,” she says.
Instead, Woolstenhulme designed a key hook inside her purse so she can keep her hands free.
“It’s not like we walk around in fear all the time,” Woolstenhulme says. “It’s all about taking some mental preparation so that we have that extra edge and we don’t become victims.”
Woolstenhulme grew up in the 1950s and fondly remembers when she didn’t even lock her door. But her days of living footloose and firearm-free are long gone.
“I can’t explain why society has changed. I think a lot of it has to do with immigration and the fact that people have moved here from very dangerous places,” she says. “If we have gun control, the only people who will have guns will be the criminals. We have to figure out if our society is going to continue to get more violent, what are we going to do about it?”
Woolstenhulme thinks helping women feel more confident carrying a gun is a good way to start. She’s sold thousands of purses each year and is a set to introduce new styles in August, including her first evening purse.
“It’s a refreshing product and women are so happy to see it that I’ve had really strong sales,” Woolstenhulme says.
One of her styles, the glacier, even has a waiting list. Woolstenhulme plans to get a new shipment in the fall.
Beretta Gallery in Highland Park Village carries two of Woolstenhulme’s purses, one in crocodile and another in ostrich. In addition to selling online and at gun shows, Woolstenhulme’s purses are in stores in Mesquite, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.
Chelsea Comtois, a sales associate at Beretta, says that although they’ve yet to sell one of Woolstenhulme’s handbags, a lot of women are interested in them.
“We’ve had a lot of people like and look,” Comtois says. “Most women aren’t aware that a handbag like this exists, but people are starting to talk about them.”