Changing The Apparel Industry, One Swimsuit At A Time

This past August, Miguel Caballero shot his wife, Carolina Ballesteros, for the second time in nine years.

Since 1993, the Colombian designer has literally pulled the trigger on more than 230 people to prove the efficacy of his bulletproof clothing. (All participants were volunteers.) The August demonstration was part of Caballero’s campaign to introduce his eponymous line of upscale bulletproof (sometimes called bullet-resistant) apparel — ranging from blazers (4,343.50 euros) to tank tops (2,023 euros) — to the United States, his newest market.

When Caballero founded his company in his native Colombia in 1992, the country was teeming with gun violence and homicide due to the still-ongoing conflict among factions there. In fact, that summer, notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar escaped from prison, ratcheting up public anxiety even more. It was a scary time to be alive, and Caballero started making armored backpacks and bullet-resistant Bible covers to help assuage the fears of his countrymen.

Bulletproof jackets hanging from racks.
Bulletproof jackets designed by Miguel Caballero.
Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

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.)

He’s not alone. In the United States, body armor manufacturing is a $465 million-a-year industry, according to an August report from Market Research. And the global market for such wares is expected to be worth $5.7 billion by 2024, according to a 2016 study by Grandview Research.

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.

The NIJ sets the only nationally acceptable standards for body armor, ranked by level. According to the Justice Technology Information Center, a subsidiary of the NIJ, Level II body armor is tested to stop 9 mm and .40 S&W ammunition fired from short-barrel handguns (no rifle ammunition protection); Level IIA is tested to stop 9 mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short-barrel handguns (no rifle ammunition protection); Level IIIA is tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer-barrel handguns (no rifle ammunition protection); Level III is tested to stop 7.62 mm FMJ lead core rifle ammunition; and Level IV is tested to stop 30-caliber steel core armor-piercing rifle ammunition.


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