BOGOTA – Miguel Caballero has been making bullet-proof clothes for politicians and other bigwigs for 20 years, but not for kids. The latest US school massacre has changed that.
This year he plans a line for children – T-shirts, vests, and combination backpack-vests – and geared toward the US market. Caballero has made good money in his 22-year-old business with a factory on the outskirts of Bogota. He sells around 50,000 garments a year that go for about $2,000 a piece, but the US market had been tough to crack.
Then, after a lone and deranged gunman killed 20 small children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month in Newtown, Connecticut, he started getting orders from very worried parents.
“We would answer that we do not make clothes for kids. But the emails kept coming,” Caballero said. So, in just a week, he designed garments and subjected them to ballistic tests. Now his factory is fitted to churn out a first lot of 1,800 bullet-proof garments for children and is waiting for firm orders.
Carolina Ballesteros, Caballero’s director of research and development, said the impact of the Newtown shooting was huge because of the age of most of the victims: just six and seven. Asked how you explain to a child that simply going to school can be so dangerous you have to wear a bullet proof vest, Ballesteros explained that her company’s garments are not designed for everyday use.
Rather, they are for emergencies, to be handed out by teachers when needed. The new line is tailored for kids aged 8 to 16, with prices ranging from $200 to $400, depending on the garment and its size.
Caballero’s factory employs 235 people, and 95 percent of its output is exported to 23 countries in the Middle East and Latin America.
The company makes uniforms for security forces and suits for public figures in many countries, she said.
“Three royal families in the Middle East are customers of ours. We made a bullet-proof kimono for the American actor Steven Seagal. Our experience is beyond question,” Ballesteros said.