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The “Ballistic Shield” recently unveiled by TuffyPacks, a Houston-based manufacturer of bulletproof backpacks, has a brightly colored picture of the Avengers charging headlong into view, with Captain America and his famous shield front and center.
Amid an epidemic of gun violence in America highlighted by recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, Calif., the TuffyPacks shield is designed to keep children safe from handgun bullets.
TuffyPacks rolled out its latest models, which include a “Disney princess” theme featuring Jasmine from Aladdin, Cinderella, Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel from Tangled, less than a month ago. In addition to Disney’s Avengers and Princesses, other themes include “Harry Potter,” “Major League Baseball” and “Camo.” They all retail for $129.
But the new bulletproof backpacks aren’t exactly endorsed by the Walt Disney Co. or Warner Bros.
“None of these products were authorized by Disney, and we are demanding that those behind this stop using our characters or our other intellectual property to promote sales of their merchandise,” a spokesperson for Disney says in a statement.
“These are not official Harry Potter products, and are in no way endorsed, licensed or in any other way supported, directly or indirectly, by Warner Bros.,” a spokesperson for the studio said.
The rollout of the company’s latest products was timed to coincide with Back-to-School sales but instead dovetailed with the nation’s two latest mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, which left 31 dead and scores of others injured.
“It’s been a busy couple of days,” says TuffyPack’s founder and CEO Steve Naremore.
The business of body armor for children isn’t new. After Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, a cottage industry sprang up.
A few early entrants also offered Disney-themed bulletproof backpacks, but they appear to have dropped out of view.
“It’s a sad, sad, sad world that this has to exist,” says Naremore, who nevertheless seems intent on bringing the kid-themed protective shields back into vogue.
Sales from dealers and off the company website spike by between 300 and 500 percent after a mass shooting, Naremore claims, though he wouldn’t provide specific numbers. “We have two commas in our sales, if you know what that means,” he says. “We’ve been at two commas for a while.”
The foray into kid-themed patterns was a business decision. No licensing arrangement with Disney was necessary, he argues, because TuffyPacks buys the fabric in bulk and inserts bulletproof shields, and the fabric maker is responsible for obtaining the license.
“Our inserts are black and look kind of tactical and ballistic,” he says, “We use licensed fabric, to try to make them more kid friendly.”
TuffyPacks also hasn’t so far asked Disney to participate in the rollout. “They’re not endorsing our products and we haven’t reached out to them for support,” Naremore says.
TuffyPacks’ website says that its shields, which slip into a folder inside a backpack, use 24 layers of a material called Twaron, a heat-resistant synthetic fiber that is akin to Kevlar, the material used in police body armor, and “is designed to fit into school backpacks.”
“After every school shooting we see the awareness spike from parents,” says Naremore. “This past weekend was similar due to El Paso and Dayton.”
Other clothing and security companies have also gotten into the children’s body armor business, but most have opted for more traditional optics.
A company called Israel-Catalog offers a range of bulletproof vests, but without the kid-friendly designs. Instead, they come in the standard blue and black colors worn by Israeli Defense Forces, or journalists and aid workers who work in war zones.
Naremore seems comfortable with the unease his products might generate.
“You’re going to have some people who say it’s a great idea, and others who say this is really sad,” he says, “I understand that thought process. It may not be for everyone. You have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. You hope you don’t have to use it.”
For now, the items are only available on TuffyPacks’ website, and Naremore is on the fence about how aggressively he wants to push them, despite what he says is a higher demand in light of the two recent mass shootings.
“They may or may not go to our dealers nationwide as there is much more labor involved,” he says.
Aug. 6, 9:46 am PST Updated with statement from Warner Bros.
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