Bullet Proof Clothing Gaining Larger Audience In U.S.

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Body armor manufacturing in the U.S. is a $465 million-a-year industry with projections it will hit $5.7 billion by 2024

A Colombian clothing designer who came to be known as the "Armored Armani" for his upscale line of bulletproof clothing has set his sights on a new market where unease over gun violence has grown: the United States.

Miguel Caballero began his business in Colombia in 1992, the same year Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar escaped from prison. But with violent crime rates down in his home country, Caballero is on the move.

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.

Body armor manufacturing in the U.S. is a $465 million-a-year industry, with projections that it will grow to $5.7 billion by 2024. But Caballero is part of a growing niche market inside this realm:

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.

Such clothing do not come cheap and are well outside the price range of the average American. Nevertheless, companies say that along with government figures, foreign dignitaries, and oil executives, more well-to-do regular citizens are looking for protection as well.

“People used to believe that violence only happened in the ‘poor section of town,’” [Damian Ross, owner of the Self Defense Company] says. “Well, now, people are waking up to the fact that it happens everywhere — where you work, live, and play. Violence knows no socioeconomic boundary.”

David Yamane, Ph.D., a sociology professor at Wake Forest University and an expert on US gun culture is not surprised the trend is picking up in the U.S. but believes a few factors will keep growth in the industry limited. One of them is cost:

“I can foresee the cost of some items coming down enough that a significant number of people would considering buying one or two,” he says. “But I don’t see them getting so cheap that most people have them. … When the costs come down to prêt-à-porter levels, it will probably settle at Saks or Neiman Marcus price points rather than Macy’s.”