Protects Like Armor, Fits Like Armani
Miguel Caballero's line of suits, shirts, and jackets is the first to merge high fashion with even higher security.
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"Who here hasn't been shot?"
Miguel Caballero is walking around his company's showroom in Bogotá, Colombia, holding a .38-caliber revolver. "You!" he says, pointing to German Gonzalez, a 20-something salesman who's been on the job for just two weeks. "You're next."
Gonzalez wiggles nervously into an $850 brown suede winter jacket and zips it up to the collar. A foot or so away, the smiling Caballero lowers the weapon and takes aim.
"One!" Gonzalez takes a deep breath and stares up at the ceiling. "Two!..." A deafening blast sends Gonzalez lurching backward - and then screaming out in relief, clutching at the hole in the jacket where the bullet has come to a safe stop.
No, this isn't some cruel corporate hazing ritual. For Caballero, founder and CEO of the company that carries his name, this is just a showman's way of demonstrating his products.
Caballero sells a line of armored clothing that fits like Armani but deflects point-blank gunfire like the Popemobile. Last year the 38-year-old entrepreneur sold an estimated $7 million worth of bulletproof trench coats, business suits, suede jackets, and denim casuals to executives, political leaders, undercover agents, and other VIPs - people who demand more than a bodyguard for protection and don't like the bulk or SWAT-team look of flak jackets and vests.
"There are hundreds of companies that make bulletproof vests," Caballero says. "We make bulletproof fashion."
Behind the style, though, is some groundbreaking substance. Instead of heavier Kevlar materials for armored lining, Caballero developed and patented a weave of nylon and polyester that can stand up to gunfire without sacrificing convenience or comfort.
The first Kevlar-based bulletproof leather jacket he created weighed 11 pounds. Today the same garment, with the new material, is just 2.6 pounds - about the heft of something you might try on at Nordstrom (Charts).
That's helped attract A-list customers, including Presidents Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who each own a bulletproof guayabera, a thin cotton shirt common in the Caribbean.
"It's not just about bulletproofing with style anymore," Caballero says. "Bulletproof clothing is becoming a style."
In fact, the company held its first runway show in Guadalajara in January, featuring Mexican models sporting a new line of casual wear. Afterward, Caballero's Mexican office sold in four weeks what it had projected to sell for the year.
And in August, Caballero will open a high-end boutique in one of Mexico City's most exclusive shopping districts. The store's neighbors? Armani, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany.
That kind of cachet goes a long way. Exports jumped nearly sevenfold from 2004 to 2005 and now account for 80 percent of sales.
Perhaps the most enviable sign of global success: the debut of knockoffs. The CEO says he's spotted counterfeit Caballero jackets for sale in Venezuela and the Netherlands.