In our July issue of Western Shooting Journal, we profiled some of the top women in the firearms industry, as the first installment of a three-part series. Here is our interview with jet renovator Kate Woolstenhulme.
In 2009, Kate Woolstenhulme took a huge career leap, from renovating high-end private jets to starting a company called Designer Concealed Carry. She had been frustrated by the lack of selection when it came to women’s purses for concealed carry. Most of them were too obvious – anyone looking at the purse could tell it was concealing a firearm. Others were just plain or frumpy.
Kate grew up on a ranch in Idaho where she was often shooting. As an adult, she worked in areas like real estate where she felt very vulnerable, but concealed carry wasn’t allowed. She would enter vacant houses with people she didn’t know. She remembers being at the University of Utah when serial woman killer Ted Bundy was there. Living in Miami with her husband, they encountered a lot of people who came from a violent country and gang activity. So Kate felt the need to carry concealed to protect herself. And as she likes to say, “Most women are not going to put it in a huge old holster on the back of their pants.”
With a job that involved updating modern business jets with style, she couldn’t show up to meetings with high-level executives carrying some boring, cheaply-made basic purse. Carrying a basic boring black or brown purse in Miami was not helping convince people to spend $500,000 with her upgrading their jet.
The nice department stores offered stylish purses, but the pockets were not the right size or in the right place for access. At gun stores, Kate observed many of the purses did not have a wide enough zipper opening for her to get her hand in and out of quickly.
Kate had experience designing a lot of function into tiny spaces for jets, so thought, “why can’t I do the same for concealed carry purses? She began working with craftsmen and engineers to design an elegant purse that completely disguised a firearm. The zipper – which is located on the exterior firearm pocket – is carefully hidden within the design so as not to show. There are also locks on the zippers, located at both ends since some women are left-handed. The holster is adjustable to fit various sizes of guns.Kate explains that a concealed carry purse is really technically a holster, so you have to draw at a right angle and thrust the handbag away. Additionally, all of her purses are designed with adjustable shoulder straps, unlike most purses, since in order to draw properly the purse has to be in right location near your hip.
Women looking for a concealed carry purse don’t know what they need to look for, and the guys who teach them usually don’t know what to tell them. When you carry a handgun, you need to think whether it functions for the job. Kate has thoroughly analyzed the technical function, and worked with women in law enforcement, who asked her to tweak the basic design to include features they required for their work.
A writer for the NRA publications told her he liked that the holster pocket has Velcro on both sides, so it can hold the heaviest gun without it twisting in the purse. And, using the second zipper to put a flashlight or pepper spray in the security pocket assures quick access to those safety items as well.
There are four slots in every bag. Keeping the top one for a hotel key allows a woman to keep her eyes on her surroundings, rather than stuck looking down which is vulnerable position. There is a key clasp on every bag, located in the same top area. Kate explains that a woman doesn’t want her keys in her hand when walking to the car, as someone may easily knock them out of her hand. It’s better to keep your hand on the keys inside the purse where either the unlock button or the alarm button could be quickly pressed. There are three open pockets and a zipper pocket for a phone, baby bottle, makeup, etc. Almost every purse has loops for pepper spray or baton (law enforcement), or flashlight, comb, etc.
Kate doesn’t include a cable in the strap, like some other concealed carry purses. She thought it was more prudent to avoid it, because the force against a cable that would not give way would likely cause a bad fall or anger the attacker to further action.
Kate uses her purses on a daily basis herself, testing them all out first. She listens to customer input and will modify accordingly. Her Santa Fe purse was designed to change the hang to a cross-body easily, but it wasn’t working for larger or taller women for cross-body as the strap was not long enough for them. So now it fits those women properly, it just doesn’t adjust as quickly.
Many men are buying their wives these $4,000 handbags. They want them to carry, and fit their vision of what they want her to look like. Unfortunately, Kate doesn’t get much word-of-mouth marketing, because no one wants people to know they carry concealed!
The purses can be used for more than just concealed carry. Everyone has something they need to lock up – such as medication. You can use it to lock up your wallet on new dates, and prevent your wallet from being stolen out of your grocery cart at a store or your passport while traveling.
Kate recommends putting a little money with expired gift cards in the zipper pocket, maybe in a cheap wallet and some cash too. If someone tries to rob you, throw them all of that while your true wallet remains secured in the locking pocket.
Kate has a wide variety of price ranges. Her high-end is $4,000 crocodile and ostrich handbags – something you won’t find anywhere else. She just introduced two new similar lines under $1,000, the Couture and Safari lines. They are calf hair printed with animal patterns combined with leather, which is a huge trend in high-end handbags. These all feature suede lining and high-end buckles. Of course, the bulk of her sales are in the $329 to $349 range, where the average woman can afford one, and she offers coupons.