In the early 1990s, Colombia was locked in a brutal drug war, led by Pablo Escobar, that saw homicide rates in Medellin surge over 8x in a matter of just a few years...
...and it was that surging violence that first prompted Miguel Caballero to start his line of bulletproof clothing some 25 years ago.
Now, as Racked points out today, with violent crime in Colombia back to levels not seen since at least the 70s, Caballero is looking to bring his bulletproof fashions to the United States where he's hoping that growing fears of gun violence, combined with an eager American consumer that is always willing to part with his/her hard-earned cash in pursuit of the next fad, will be a boon for his business.
That was then. Homicides in Colombia have since declined, and Caballero — sometimes called the “Armored Armani” — turned his savvy eye to another country besieged by gun violence and grasping for a sense of security: the United States. Earlier this year, he opened a distribution center in Miami to sell his clothing line to wary Americans. His bulletproof apparel includes all levels of protection as standardized by the U.S. National Institute of Justice (NIJ): IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV. (More on what those levels mean in a minute.)
Within this industry is a small but growing sector of manufacturers and retailers that, like Caballero, are proffering upscale bulletproof apparel that’s light-years beyond the standard bulletproof vest, both sartorially and functionally. From bespoke suits to safari jackets, the new breed of bulletproof clothing is comfortable and undetectable.
And, lest you think this nothing but a clever gimmick, the Colombian designer has literally shot some 230 people since starting his company in the early 90s to prove the efficacy of his clothing line...including the following demonstration in which he shot his own wife at point blank range...for the 2nd time.
Of course, Caballero is not alone in his efforts to capitalize on the growing body armor manufacturing industry that is estimated to be worth some $465 million in sales in the U.S. and $5.7 billion globally.
Abbas Haider, CEO and president of Aspetto Inc. in Fredericksburg, Virginia, claims to have been the first US purveyor of high-end bulletproof fashion. While Aspetto offers normal apparel and accessories, its best-seller is the bespoke Ballistic Suit Level IIIA ($5,000), comprising lightweight bullet-resistant panels. It can stop a bullet at point-blank range from most handguns and meets testing standards by the NIJ, DEA, and FBI.
Haider started his custom clothing brand in 2008 as a college freshman. As seniors, he and fellow student Robert Davis, now Aspetto’s chief operating officer, teamed up to create high-end bulletproof fashion as part of an international marketing class. The duo met with a ballistics producer and built a prototype suit. “Before we could even present our project to the class, we were already talking to some ‘three-letter’ agencies [e.g., CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.] who were interested in what we had developed,” he says. “After receiving an A on the project, Robert and I decided that we wanted to turn this into a real business and continue expanding on it. The typical body armor user is tired of not seeing any innovation in the industry for years.”
Yet another bulletproof apparel manufacturer and retailer, BulletBlocker, was born as a direct result of violence. After the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Massachusetts resident Joe Curran feared that a similar tragedy might strike closer to home. “The safety of my two school-aged children motivated the creation of the bulletproof backpacks,” says the former Army ranger, deputy sheriff, and firearms instructor. He founded the company that same year and soon expanded to selling bulletproof clothing, such as the NIJ IIIA Bulletproof Leather Jacket ($875) and NIJ IIIA Bulletproof Classic Two Piece Suit ($1,200).
Of course, the luxury of being able to attend your lavish suburban dinner parties with the psychological reassurance that you're absolutely safe in the event your neighbor randomly pulls out his 9mm to bust a cap in your ass, doesn't come cheap. As an example, the following stylish blazer from Caballero will set you back about $5,000 USD...
...that said, you can't put a price on peace of mind...might we suggest Chicago or Baltimore for the first flagship store?