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Armed and FABULOUS by Terri Richardson

| The Journal Gazette

Dawn Hillyer has spent many years hiding.

A victim of a stalker ex-boyfriend who tormented her for 21/2 years, she found hiding was her way of staying safe.

Then, she found Hilda – her Glock 380. Now, the only thing she’s hiding these days is her gun.

Hillyer of Fort Wayne started a business called HidingHilda, which provides fashionable firearm accessories for women. It has become part of a growing business that offers women a sense of empowerment and protection.

For decades, women have had few choices when it comes to the clothing they can wear to hide a firearm. Enter holsters, corsets, camisoles and other clothing designed to be flattering, feminine – and functional – for the pistol-packin’ mama crowd.

Hillyer’s business offers her own line of concealed-carry purses as well as other manufacturers’ purses, holsters, iPad cases, stun guns and apparel.  

Hillyer says she became trained in gun use because she wanted to be able to protect herself. "I wasn’t going to live like that again," she says.

However, she couldn’t find a good way to carry her weapon. As an executive, she needed something professional and wasn’t satisfied with the offerings that were available.

So she decided to start her own business and offer women like herself options of firearm accessories that are both stylish and functional.

Hillyer says women carry differently than men.

Women’s waists tend to be shorter, providing less room to withdraw a gun from a holster, says Carrie Lightfoot, founder and owner of The Well Armed Woman in Scottsdale, Arizona, which also sells a variety of concealed-carry clothing. Hips and chests can get in the way too, she says.

"When you put a man’s holster on a woman’s body, it sticks out. It doesn’t hug the body," Lightfoot says.

One of her company’s first missions was to design and produce a holster that recognized the differences in body types and clothing styles between men and women.

Lightfoot and others say that some manufacturers tended to "shrink it and pink it" – thinking that taking gear produced for men and making it smaller and brightly colored would satisfy female customers. They and their counterparts emphasize they are driven first by function and safety before aesthetics come into the equation.

"Women need to know they can carry effectively," Lightfoot says. "I think the key is finding a way to carry it so you can be comfortable and move through your day without being poked and having a big hunk of metal in your pants and not be able to sit at work."

Hillyer’s items, which range from $79.99 for her purse line to up to nearly $200 for other brands, can be found at www.hidinghilda.com or at Freedom Firearms, 1525 Directors Row, a block off West Coliseum Boulevard.

Brad MacPherson at Freedom says there is definitely a need for women’s firearm accessories. The business has seen more women coming in to buy guns, and 30 percent to 40 percent of Freedom’s customers are women.

Hillyer says the "response has been amazing … almost overwhelming" with her business.

"This is so much bigger than me," Hillyer says of her business. "God gave it to me. ... I still watch over my shoulder ... but I don’t live in fear. ... Now I’m living out loud."

Hillyer’s stalker was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his criminal behavior. However, after earning a college degree while in prison, his time was reduced, and he was released early after serving only three years of his original sentence.

It was a shock for Hillyer, who wasn’t prepared for his early release. Her ordeal is why she works to empower and encourage women to protect themselves.

While guns provide protection for women, training is the key with gun ownership, says Hillyer, who pushes gun safety. Hillyer started a women’s shooting group at Freedom, which has an indoor firing range. The group meets the second Tuesday and Thursday of the month. Currently there are 100 members who meet up to shoot.

She also urges women to protect themselves and learn some form of self-defense. Hillyer donates part of the proceeds from HidingHilda to training and resources for stalking victims and advocates.

"You can’t predict crazy," Hillyer says. "Something is better than nothing."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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