By Jennifer Johnson Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Marilyn Smolenski, a suburban mother of two whose company "Nickel and Lace" is uniquely mixing concealed carry fashion with safety. Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago
Marilyn Smolenski's line of body wear isn't the only thing her customers are concealing beneath their clothes.
Sporting pockets on both sides, Smolenski's form-fitting top doubles as a handgun holster for one contingent of the concealed carry set: women.
The Park Ridge entrepreneur launched Nickel and Lace, a company mixing concealed carry fashion with safety, in 2012 after reaching a frustrating conclusion: The holsters she borrowed from her husband for use in a self-defense and safety course just didn't hit the mark.
"All his holsters were incredibly uncomfortable for me," said Smolenski, who grew up learning how to skeet shoot in Texas and Louisiana. "When I started doing my research, there was nothing on the market for women, except for a bra holster that literally clips underneath your bra."
And so, an idea started to form.
"I came home, sat down with my sewing machine and got started making something for myself that I would like to wear regularly -- and something that had multiple purposes," Smolenski said.
The result was the "Shape Wear Holster," an open bust camisole with two "cross-body draw holsters" resembling ordinary pockets.
Aware that a female-centered holster market was virtually nonexistent, Smolenski saw her design as a new business opportunity.
"I contacted some friends in the fashion industry to help me with patterns and touching base with manufacturers, and it just kind of went from there," she said.
Sold mainly through her website, www.nickelandlace.com the Shape Wear Holster is described as "functional sexiness" that allows the wearer "to chose a holster for her wardrobe, rather than dressing for a bulky holster." A new, shorter camisole is set to debut this Christmas or early in 2017, Smolenski said, and a suede outerwear vest, also made for concealed carry, is on the horizon.
Also sold by Nickel and Lace is a trigger guard holster, manufactured by an Illinois-based company, Black Rhino. The website notes that this holster can be used in purses, bags, pockets or the center console of a car.
Though Smolenski runs her company out of her Park Ridge home, the mother of two explains that the items she sells are manufactured and shipped from other locations, though all are made in the United States. Her company does not sell firearms, she added.
Sarah Natalie, general manager of Maxon Shooter's Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, says the female holster market is a "tremendously untapped" one.
"A lot of times, women will be forced to wear a holster that was designed for a body shape that is not their own," Natalie said. "So there are modifications you are constantly trying to make. The inside joke about concealed carry is that you're always on the quest for the most comfortable holster."
Holsters made for men, Natalie said, can be problematic as women generally have longer arms and shorter torsos, making it more difficult to draw a gun that is holstered high on the waistline. Additionally, most holsters are designed to be worn on the outside of clothing, whether it is for training purposes or law enforcement, Natalie said. Finding a holster that isn't noticeable under form-fitting clothing can be challenging -- and Nickel and Lace is trying to address that need, she said.
Smolenski says many of her earliest customers were female police officers looking for better ways to carry their guns under their clothing, whether they were working undercover or off duty and out of uniform.
"They couldn't wear the traditional waistband holster," she said. "It wasn't working for them."
Other buyers of Smolenski's Shape Wear Holster include members of the military, bartenders and waitresses, and, Smolenski noted, a growing number of real estate agents.
The Shape Wear Holster has even made it into fashion shows, like the one held this past spring during the second annual United States Concealed Carry Association Expo in Atlanta, Georgia.
"It's a young market, but it's growing," she said of concealed carry fashion for women. "I'm excited to be a part of it, I'm proud to be a part of it, and I plan to roll out more products."
But Smolenski adds that her bodywear holster isn't just for packing heat.
"When I was in Europe two years ago, I put my room keys, I put my ID, I put my cellphone in my pockets and I hit the road," she said. "It's not just for a firearm."