Meow Defense, a self-defense company on a mission to help women protect themselves

Photo courtesy of Meow Defense/ BELatina

women suffer violent attacks at an alarming rate in this country. Feeling safe is a luxury that Elizabeth Gonzalez, founder of Meow Defense, does not take for granted. Elizabeth started her self-defense business and online store with a clear mission: to inspire everyone to feel empowered and safe. It’s a cause close to her heart after years of feeling like she has no control over her own protection.

The numbers don’t lie. One in five women in the United States will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. On top of that, 81% of women said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, reports the National Resource Center on Sexual Violence.

It goes without saying that this is not correct. These statistics are scary. But that’s the reality that many women face – they need to take their protection into their own hands.

When Elizabeth Gonzalez was just 15, she felt vulnerable, being constantly followed by men on public transport or walking her way to school. So she started carrying pepper spray to feel safer.

Over time, her vulnerability didn’t change, but she got smarter and started advising other women about self-defense and wearing pepper spray. Soon she realized that her need to feel safe was not the exception, but rather the common thread that connected her to many other women. And so, she found her passion for helping other Latinas protect themselves and feel empowered. Shortly after, Meow Defense was born.

Her operation is a true Latina-owned small business from start to finish. She does it all on her own and from home – from designing products, posting on social media, creating blog posts, promoting new items, and even shipping products (and free replacements, if necessary).

It’s a passion project built out of necessity, and it evolved to help women gain knowledge, empowerment, and tools to feel safe and give back to the community.

Giving back was a goal that was always present in the back of Gonzalez’s mind, but recently came to life. Every month Meow Defense makes a portion of her proceeds go to local organizations that help protect women and youth, and some months she donates self-defense tools to people who can’t afford to buy them on their own.

The mission is always to inspire, empower and arm the community with what they need to stay safe.

We chatted with Elizabeth about her brand, what inspired her to launch Meow Defense, and what she wants all women to know about self-protection.

She urges all women to be smart about their own safety and what they need to feel truly protected. For some, this may include self-defense tools and weapons; for others, it may simply mean arming yourself with the knowledge of how to avoid dangerous environments and stay away from potentially vulnerable situations. Either way, Meow Defense is here to help all women stay cute and stay safe.

Meow Defense 02 BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Meow Defense/BELatina.

What first inspired you to launch Meow Defense?

My interest in starting a small self-defense tool business started in high school. Like most kids my age, I walked to school and home alone. While I was used to strangers calling me like a cat, there was once a stranger in a car followed me a few blocks, and he didn’t stop until I pretended to walk into an apartment complex so he wouldn’t know where I lived. That’s when I started researching what I could legally wear for self-defense, as I was in a situation that could have easily escalated. In California, a minor sixteen or older can wear pepper spray with written permission from their parents, so after talking to my mom, she bought me some pepper spray. It was then that I realized that many people, especially women, find themselves in potentially dangerous situations but have never thought of carrying a self-defense tool. Two years later, in 2014, I soft-launched Meow Defense online.

What is your goal for Meow Defense? How do you hope your store and brand will help others?

My goal has always been to let people know that they have the ability to protect themselves from scary situations. The point of carrying weapons is not necessarily to use them, but to be prepared and confident to use them. For example, if I’m in a parking lot and notice someone following me, I can grab my pepper spray and know I’ll use it if they start getting too close. Knowing that I have a weapon that I know how to use is a tool in itself. Attacks are never a survivor’s fault, and we live in a world where we have to fight for ourselves, so ultimately, I’ve always stressed the importance of carrying self-defense tools.

We love that you make monthly contributions to different organizations in your community. How did this charitable connection start, and why give back such an important part of your business model and brand?

Like any other person, all I wanted to do was help others. However, I wasn’t financially able to do so until the summer of 2018, so that’s when I started making contributions to my local community where I could. I love my business and my job, but I’ve always viewed it more as an online community. This online community has supported my business for years, so I’m giving back to them right now by either donating financially to women’s shelters or donating self-defense tools to people who can’t afford them. . Self-defense tools don’t have to be a luxury. I think they should be accessible to everyone regardless of class, gender, race and everything else. It’s never a life-changing gift, but every bit counts, and people should always give when they can. I also give back to my clients by offering free replacements on any of their tools if they are lost or damaged in an act of self-defense.

What’s the most common misconception you’ve heard about self-defense, and what do you want Latinos to know about self-protection?

Over the past 7+ years, a common misconception I’ve noticed about self defense is thinking that just carrying a tool is enough. Thinking about owning and carrying a tool is a very personal decision that requires research. First, you need to check which tools allow you to legally own and carry based on the laws of your city and state. Then you have to ask yourself what you are ready to use as weapons can be potentially deadly. I always recommend pepper spray as a solid move because you don’t have to be near an attacker to use it, and they’re legal in most states in the US. After choosing a tool, always learn how to use it and access it easily! You may find yourself in a situation where you only have a short window to get your pepper spray out, and it won’t do you any good if it’s in your car or at the bottom of your bag. I always recommend taking a local self-defense class for people who don’t feel comfortable using a self-defense tool (and even if they do). Sometimes universities offer them for free to their students, so check your options carefully. We must always be prepared, not afraid.

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