Miguel Caballero loves to shoot his employees. All of them. Every year. With a .38 pistol, he makes them test their commitment to quality. “In bulletproof clothing, you don’t get a second chance,” says Caballero, an immaculately dressed Colombian businessman who makes the world’s most fashionable bulletproof suits, ties, and even underwear. Watch the video below!
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Watch the video of Jonathan’s shooting now!
Just below us, dozens of seamstresses work their machines, making glamorous suits for Hugo Chavez and the Prince of Asturias. It may look like just another $3000 suit, but hidden inside each garment is Caballero’s secret weapon-panels of flexible Kevlar-like material, almost as thin as a floppy disk from last century, and capable of stopping even a point-blank gunshot to the chest.
The business was born in the Colombia of the 1980s, when car bombs, kidnappings and mayhem forced thousands of ordinary citizens to wear bulletproof vests. The vests, however, were bulky, heavy and totally uncool. Enter Miguel Caballero, a young college student who decided to revolutionise the industry. He added a tailor’s touch to the armoured plates and, voilà, a legend was born. He merged the styling of Armani with the survival properties of Kevlar. The result is now a multi-million dollar operation that makes bulletproof jackets, cocktail dresses, ties, and even underwear.
For customers who have been shot and had their life saved by the bulletproof garments, Caballero adds their name to the Survivors Club (Club de Sobrevivientes), which numbers in the dozens. I didn’t doubt that Caballero and the 169 workers I saw inside his factory were churning out top-quality bulletproof dinner jackets, but how could I really be sure that they worked?
“Will you shoot me?” I ask Caballero as he finishes up his sales spiel from inside his fortress-like office in Bogota. Suddenly, his brave demeanour shrinks. He looks pained. “This is not good,” I think, as I flash back to my children, my girlfriend. Even the cute LanChile stewardess suddenly seems important.
“Okay, but you have to sign this,” says Caballero as a beautiful blonde assistant shoves what looks like legal paperwork my way. It probably says that whatever happens, it ain’t his fault. Duh! I asked him to shoot me, so I’ve got no problem signing that.
While I fill in the forms, Caballero explains that his clothing is barely known in Colombia. Despite media stereotypes and Rambo movies, Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is less dangerous than many other cities. Even US cities such as Washington, D.C. have two or three times its crime rate. Today, Bogota is so safe that cruise ships regularly stop at Cartagena, tourism is booming and US college students regularly visit on Spring Break (check out the great online party pictures at www.toursgonewild.com). The national tourism board even delivered the catchy marketing slogan, ‘The Risk is You Want to Stay’ (El Riesgo es Que Te Quieres Quedar).
So, selling bulletproof clothing in Bogota is not profitable? “No-one even knows me here in Colombia,” says Caballeros. “But thank God for Mexico! They have a serious security situation with kidnappings, and it is pretty dangerous.”
With his credentials as the world’s No. 1 bulletproof tailor, Caballero is branching out to other global hotspots. He now has operations in Mexico, Guatemala and South Africa. VIP clients include former action star Steven Seagal, who has bulletproof jackets, tracksuits, and even a bulletproof kimono.
As Caballero’s assistant fits the brown leather jacket over my shoulders, her smile looks forced, like she’s straining to relax. I keep flashing to Brandon Lee (the son of Bruce Lee who was accidentally shot and killed on a Hollywood set by a gun that was supposed to fire only blanks.) My daughter Susan’s words echo in my head: “Dad, have ‘em shoot the photographer. He has fewer kids.” Too late for that pearl of wisdom; Caballero is asking me to pick out the bullet-which seems a little like letting a condemned prisoner screw in the fuses to the electric chair.
My request to have Caballero shoot me has compelled most of the company to gather in the conference room. The photographer jokes that they have come to witness the idiot who asked to get shot. Solemnly, the TV is turned off and the curtains drawn. It feels a bit shady. “What’s to hide?” I think, a little anxiously.