At London's Harrods Department store a great many
sales of bullet proof clothing are made by Russians.
By Ron Laytner
BOGOTA, Columbia – The shooting would take place at 4 pm. Others had been shot before her and Maria knew she would not be the last.
She dutifully entered the small firing room and took her place as a target near the Gun Table.
Maria waited nervously. She had been working just one week in the clothing factory and already it was her turn to be shot.
Miguel Caballero, the owner, strode into the room. He was well-dressed, very rich, successful and a little pudgy from eating the very best of foods all over the world. He’d be doing the shooting himself.
Maria was given a light-weight and fashionable jacket to put on and a pair of big sound silencers to cover her ears.
She watched as a stately woman assistant to the owner prepared a couple of pistols, a 38 caliber revolver and a 9 millimeter automatic, then waited, placing her hands over her own ears for protection.
Mr. Caballero reached up, inserted his own small earplugs and looked carefully at the trembling 19-year-old girl. It takes a lot of nerve to shoot people. He closed his eyes and rolled his neck up and back and from side to side to ease its tension.
Then he made certain the jacket was properly zipped shut. He carefully placed a small sticky tape paper target onto the jacket. He didn’t want to shoot Maria in the ribs or breasts.
He ordered the human target to stand absolutely still and carefully explained the rules
He would fire on the count of three.
She saw a big shell being inserted into an empty chamber of Miguel’s revolver.
He placed the gun a few inches from her stomach, aimed at the target and began to count:
“Uno … Dos…” She closed her eyes in fear… But Miguel had lied. There never would be a three.
Suddenly the gun went off in a noisy explosion. Maria involuntarily flinched… She quickly reached down inside her clothing and checked her stomach. There was no wound, no blood. Nothing. She wasn’t hurt. The shooting had been a success!
She smiled with her boss as he reached into a new hole blown in the jacket and felt inside until he located and pulled out the spent bullet, flattened and lodged as it should be, inside the jacket material.
“You’ve done a good job Maria,” said Miguel Caballero, “That jacket you made can save a life. It already has – It saved yours.”
He blew away gunpowder smoke from around his revolver, placed it back on the gun table inside an array of weapons and strode confidently through a nearby door and back into his highly successful factory.
Miguel Caballero is owner of the world’s largest fashion house that makes armored clothing and which bears his name.
Headquartered in Columbia, which is not only famous for coffee, but kidnappings, narco murders and terrorism, he has spread his sales of bullet proof vests, disguised as fashionable clothing to 32 countries around the world, including America with an office in Miami.
When Miguel was a student at the University of Bogota he was fascinated when he saw a wealthy female student walk by with four armed bodyguards who were wrapped in large bullet proof vests. He wondered why were the bodyguards protected and not their client? Then he forgot about it and went into the fashion industry on graduation.
As the shootings and killings continued in Columbia Miguel thought of that personally unprotected girl student and realized there was a need for a new world industry. Why couldn’t people in danger and needing protection still look good?
He invented an armed jacket that was fashionable, was light, gave full protection and the rest is history.
Now his factory employs 250 armored clothing seamstresses and dozens of salesmen around the world. Those wearing Caballero armored clothing, that we know of, include the Presidents of Columbia, Peru, Guatemala and King Abdullah of Jordan.
It's been reported that he recently fashioned a tropical shirt for Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. The shirt can stop a 9 mm slug or bullets from an Uzi but costs $9,000.
Columbian President Alvaro Uribe has twice escaped assassination by FARC rebels.
The company did $16 million dollars in sales in 2009. It receives hundreds of inquiries for armored clothing from countries everywhere on the globe, from Russia to Brazil. Caballero's armored clothing sells at Harrods Department store in London but says Marisha Kelly,of the Miami office, "I think Brazilians would rather buy protection in Brazil itself. We are hoping to set up a dealership in Rio de Janeiro."
Sixty percent of sales are in military and police protection clothing, more than six million are in bullet-proof fashion.
The clothes are lighter than traditional military vest and even include a bullet-proof tie. They can be expensive.
A surprise at London's Harrods is that many of the customers are Russians. The second highest number of buyers are wealthy Arab women buying to protect their men and wear fashionable armored clothing themselves.
Does President Obama use Miguel’s armored clothing? Does his wife, Michelle, their children? The armored clothing magnet smiles and says only, “We have a confidentiality agreement with our clients.”
But at the US President’s inauguration there was much talk that Obama, usually slim and graceful, was unusually stiff and almost certainly wearing armored clothing.
But Mr. Caballero did show a large yellow armored coat belonging to actor Steven Seagal and admitted many people in America and most countries, the very wealthy, movie stars, other celebrities and politicians are among his clients.
His business is big and growing. Last year he made and sold 52,000 sets of armored clothing world wide.
“Our protective clothing looks good. We make it for men and women and adapt all the time to market changes. We have special armored shirts and even T-shirts which save lives and can custom design anything, even a kimono.”
When Miguel Cabellero test shoots an employee it is an article of the seamstress’ faith that what they have sewn will save lives. Everyone working in the factory must be test fired, wearing an armored piece of clothing they made themselves.
He tells of the first time he test shot an employee and laughs when he was asked if it was his wife.
“I hadn’t done much research and, scared as I was, I simply had someone put on a jacket and quickly fired a gun at them.
“I didn’t yet realize how much trauma can come from being shot near the ribs. I shot him right in the chest. My first target did survive. But he was unable to return to work for the next two weeks.”
That’s why he test fires around the stomach which has no bones and can bounce in and out from the force of the fired bullet. In an assassination attempt people don’t care if they break a rib or two or get a heavy blow to the chest – as long as they survive and the bullets don’t penetrate their bodies.
He revealed something very strange about his wealthy clients. Armored clothing costs from $400 to $1,000 for minimal protection depending on its size, from shirt to coat. Extra protection against heavy weaponry such as machine guns can run as high as $9,000.
“Someone wearing our armored clothing does not want his bodyguards to have the same protection. He doesn’t want them complacent or relaxed, knowing they can take a bullet or two and survive.
“The person being guarded wants their bodyguards nervous, their own lives at stake, body unprotected and fully on guard to protect them, the person they work for.”
He explained why his clothing is so lightweight and still can protect.
“We work under strict military standards. We develop special clothing for the outer shell, which can be seen, and is made up of fine Italian leathers. Inside are Protective panels of para-aramid fiber, The full garment, inside and out, is 100 percent flexible, meaning it bends comfortably and is still fully protective.”
He talked about machine guns and powerful assault rifles.
“We cannot take lightly the power of the bullet impacting on our clothing. We constantly improve the clothing and its material. We don’t test heavy caliber ammunition of semi automatic or sub machineguns on our employees. The trauma impact is too high and so we use special labs for testing.”
If he didn’t he might run out of employees.
Cabellero explains, “Our clothing will stop larger bullets from machine guns and rifles but then the armored clothing is a little heavier.
“It does not have to be thicker. They are all designed to be bullet proof for any range of bullets that we test. But for heavy weapons the clothing is usually a little heavier. Normally our armored clothing weighs 1.3 kilograms (2.83 pounds) and for the sub machine guns or Uzi’s they are around 1.5 kilograms (3.13 pounds).”
He said only certain people legally can purchase his vests and that narco dealers, killers and terrorists will not start protecting themselves in firefights.
Explains armor’s fashion leader, “We are carefully consulted by the aides of VIP’s, such as Presidents of countries who buy our clothing. We receive intelligence reports from countries around the world on who should be denied our clothing. All sales go through an updated database from the US Department of Defence.
Asked if Venezuela’s controversial Hugo Chavez is protected by his armored clothing, Miguel Cabello carefully answers, “I can’t disclose that information.”
Among those buying Miguel’s armored clothing are; People who empty out or repair ATM machines, armored car drivers, security guards, convenience store clerks and owners (one of the most dangerous of all jobs), bounty hunters, reposessors, hunters, tow truck operators and those serving court supoenas.
Strangest of all are the dozens of inquiries from school teachers who say they are receiving death threats from students. The teachers complain they are not only receiving too little in pay but now they can also be shot. They want to wear armored clothing to school. Where will it end?
By Ron Laytner
More photos >