Bulletproof armor is life saving and incredibly important to security forces of any kind, but usually quite ugly, bulky, and heavy. Even bulletproof vests that can be worn under clothing are a bit clunky and weighty. A smaller men's suiting retailer in Virginia decided to take it upon themselves to make bulletproof suits worthy of James Bond.
Aspetto: I [Abbas] started a clothing company freshman year of college. It was dress shirts, suits. The company was starting to grow a little. I had an international marketing class. The idea was to take a product from the U.S. to overseas. We wanted to take something to the Middle East. We were thinking of bombs, bullets, things blowing up. We think we can integrate armor into the suits. There was a local company, Renegade Armor. They said one of the [federal] agencies about a year ago was requesting bulletproof suits, but they couldn't do it, because they didn't know anything about suits. Before we could present our product to the class, we were talking to one of the agencies.
The Wire: So you were already in the suiting business. How did that affect your bulletproof designs?
Aspetto: Everything we do here is custom. That really impacts how well the bulletproof suits fit, and how well they work. Custom is "better," because it'll be a product used specifically. With our regular suits, not bulletproof, you can see a gentleman walking down the street and see the suit is custom. It's just for him, it fits right. When you add the bulletproof side of it, it not only has that look, but it has a functionality. Each panel is designed to cover them, if they have a broader chest or narrower waist. That way, it fits more appropriately and better.
The Wire: Do you make any non-custom suits?
Aspetto: We are starting to do work for overseas governments, which won't be custom. One of the agencies in the U.S. wanted to find out if we can do standard, but custom is better.
The Wire: What's the design process like for the bulletproof suits?
Aspetto: A lot of research and development went into slimming down these suits and making them covert. It makes them not appear to be bulky, not look the way you would think. The ballistic material within the suit is not only thin, but also lighter weight. We don't necessarily want the heavier product because we wanted it to be comfortable when worn. On average, our bullet resistant suits weigh 6 to 7 pounds, give or take on the size of the person. A regular suit weighs roughly 3 pounds. The fit is determined by our patent-pending technology.
The Wire: What are some of your most popular products?
Aspetto: We are starting to get into tactical gear, what you see military and police wearing. That's always going to be needed. One of the popular things we do is an undershirt, you wear it under a dress shirt. Bullet resistance, bomb frag resistance and fire retardant, and there's a concealed carry pocket.
The Wire: Any weird product requests?
Aspetto: We made a bulletproof kids' backpack. It was pink. It was right after the Newtown shooting. We had a lot of inquiries about the protection of kids. The backpack was the most common solution for that. It was really sad.
The Wire: How are your prices?
Aspetto: Depending on the level of protection, it'll be between $3,500 to $5,000. A non-bulletproof suit, made with an average fabric, it would be around $600-$1000.
The Wire: How do you determine your fabric and materials are bulletproof?
Aspetto: We try to stick with 100 percent wool for the exterior. One of the big things is we want to make sure when you're wearing bullet resistance, it'll be robust, but also professional. So it'll look nice. That is one of the considerations we have with the external fabric.
As for the bullet proof material, we go through the National Institute of Justice. It has a certification to approve ballistics. When we have our bullet resistant packages, they can be certified to stop a certain point of threat levels. We gather our bullet resistant materials from our partner. They provide us with materials only certified by NIJ. Level 3a; that is what we handle, that's the highest in soft armor. Level 3a will stop any handgun or shotgun. Most local law enforcements wear Level 2a, so we are a step above that.
A lot of things can stop a bullet, but it's also what happens after the bullet stops. We call it back face. So it's not just stopping the bullet, it's making sure nothing is ruptured after, that the heart isn't affected. That's what our materials can do, that's what they are certified to do.
The Wire: There's a company in Colombia that also makes bulletproof clothing. The owner insists on shooting his employees (and himself) in the clothes before he sells them. Do you guys do that?
Aspetto: The way we see it — and why neither of us have gotten shot — we see that as reckless. If we are going to be working with government agencies, go into their shoes. If this person is shooting himself, or his employee, yes, he is confident in his product, but is that something we want to be a part of? We don't see it as necessary because we have ballistics that have gone through the testing, that will stop threat levels. We don't care to partake in an idea of that sort. We do put our suits on a mannequin and shoot at them.
The Wire: What happens after you get shot in a suit?
Aspetto: If you got shot once, you should get a new suit after you've been shot. You can take multiple shots, but still, it's dangerous. We have put 18-to-20 rounds in a suit when we tested a suit.
The Wire: You must get a lot of crazy people calling you.
Aspetto: We have had sketchy phone calls. We do tell the customers that we do background checks. That's for our liability. We try to stick with mostly law enforcement and federal agents. The idea was to protect the people that protect us. We don't want our product ending up in the wrong hands.
The Wire: So do you actually make federal agents look cool under cover?
Aspetto: We do have government contracts, and our suits are definitely really cool. We can't speak about which agencies we work with though.