Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!


Zippers!


Hey everyone, welcome to another Curious about Clothes podcast!


This week’s episode was inspired by my sister’s baby.  He has this thing, it’s called a sleep sack (people with babies probably know what this is, but to me it’s a new concept).  The best way to explain it is it’s a Snuggie for babies- a blanket you can wear!


This sleep sack has a little nylon zipper.  Which is great, because it is soft and light and not at all scratchy.  But, because the sleep sack gets a lot of washing, the top end of the zipper broke off in the wash and along with it when the zipper pull.  


Since I’m the person in my family who general fixes broken or ill fitting clothing,  I got a package from my sister this week containing the broken sleep sack. She wanted to know if I could fix the zipper.  And honestly, I wasn’t really sure if I could. In all my years of sewing, other than applying a zipper that I bought at a fabric store, I didn’t know that much about them.


When were they invented and by whom?  How many different types of zippers are there and when did they become so ubiquitous that we stopped marveling at their fabulousness?


It was time to do some digging and then I thought, why not bring you all along for the adventure as well?


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The History of the Zipper:


Let’s take a quick zip into the past to find the birth of zippers, starting in 1851 when..


Elias Howe, famous for inventing the sewing machine, was the first person to get a patent for something along the lines of a zipper, he called it an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.”    

Unfortunately for everyone at the time, Elias didn’t do much with this other than secure the patent.


In 1893, Whitcomb Judson (you gotta to love those 19th century names, huh?) secured a patent for a “Clasp Locker” device.  If you google his patent image you’ll see that it’s not quite wihat we would call a zipper today, but it does feature an early form of the zipper slide, a little device to close the clasps.  


Whitcomb Judson also secured a patent for what he dubbed a “C-curity Fastener.”  This time instead of clasps, the closures were more like hooks and eyes.


Whitcomb Judson then opened the Universal Fastener Company in Hoboken, New Jersey,   to manufacture his inventions and debuted his products at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  


Judson’s products were either cumbersome or did not stay closed and as a result, his initial products did not sell well.


However, an employee of Whitcomb Judson (I’m sorry I just have to keep saying his full name!), a Swedish born engineer by the name of Gideon Sundback improved on Judson’s idea and in 1913 he came up with the design for the modern zipper.


Of course it was a Swedish person who invented zippers! Form AND function!


Gideon Sundback received a patent for his “Separable Fastener” in 1917.


In 1923 the term “Zipper” , so named for the “zip” sound it made as it was in use, was first used by the B.F. Goodrich Company when they decided to use Gideon Sundback’s “separable Fastener on their rubber boots.


Zippers were initially made of metal such as aluminum, nickel & brass.


For the first 15-20 years of zippers, zippers were primarily used on boots or tobacco pouches (I know I feel confused by this usage on tobacco pouches as well).  


But we did see some zippers enter the fashion world, most notably in 1935, when surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli famously used zippers in many of her winter collection designs.


In 1937, French fashion designers decided to use zippers in men’s pants instead of buttons.  Esquire magazine championed the zipper as the, “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men,” particularly because it would help eliminate “the possibility of unintentional and embarrassing disarray.”


Parts of a Zipper:


I know you know a zipper is a zipper, but do you know what the individual parts are called? Well, you’re about to!


Teeth:  Imagine you’re looking at a zipper… OR be an overachiever and grab that zip up hoodie that’s hanging on the back of your chair. The teeth of a zipper are that center portion of the zipper.  The teeth are what hold the zipper together when they interlocked. Teeth are generally made of metal, plastic or nylon.


Tape:  zipper tape is the fabric that the zipper teeth are attached to.  Zipper tape is usually a woven fabric (but can be knit) and is generally made of either polyester or cotton. Some very lightweight zippers are attached to a mesh tape that is made from a nylon material.


Slider:  The slider is the piece that slides over the zipper teeth to open or close them.   Zipper sliders can either be made of plastic or metal.


Pull: Zipper pulls are the small piece attached to the zipper slider.  Zipper pulls can be a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their function.  A jacket would get a wider, easy-to-grip zipper pull, while an invisible zipper on a dress might have a very slender, discrete zipper pull.


Stopper: Zipper stoppers are the little metal clamps at the bottom or top of a zipper.  This prevents the zipper slide from just running off the end of the zipper tape.


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Types of Zippers:


So now that you know the parts of a zipper, let’s talk about the different types:


Metal Zippers: The OG zipper type first invented in 1917.  Each zipper tooth is metal and the slide that closes them is metal also.  A great place to find a metal zipper is in the fly of your denim jeans, or a leather purse.


Molded Plastic Zippers-  The same technology as a metal zipper, only plastic! They are manufactured by individually injecting each plastic tooth directly to the zipper tape.  These zippers can be very strong and durable- great for outerwear. They are also very lightweight.


Nylon coil zippers:  Instead of individual zipper teeth- these zippers have a continuous coil.  You’ll often find this type of zipper on things like luggage and many types of clothing- they are very flexible and durable.  A special type of nylon coil zipper is an invisible zipper. Invisible zippers are very small versions of nylon zippers, and you’ll typically find them on women’s dressier clothing.


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Types of the types:


Within each type of zipper, there are further classifications of zippers including:


Closed End Zippers:

These zippers are not separating, meaning one end of the zipper always remains closed.  THis is the original and most basic form of the zipper. This type of zipper can be found on the fly of your denim pants, or possibly on a bag or shoes.


Separating Zippers:  With these zippers, the bottom of the zipper can be totally separated from the other side, allowing for a full open interior access to, for instance, your winter coat.  How is this magic achieved? Well, the bottom part of the zipper is joined together with a box and pin mechanism.


Two way separating zippers:  The most exciting type of zipper!  On a two way separating zipper there are two zipper slides: the first slide closes the zipper, while the second slide opens is up. This allows you to create closure in a certain part of the item or garment.  You’ll often find 2-way separating zippers on activewear jackets, they allow you to zip up that middle part of the jacket but open up the bottom portion to allow for more movement.


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Who Makes All These Zippers?:


Whitcomb Judson’s Universal Fastener Company was renamed Talon Zippers and was the major manufacturer of zippers up until the 1970s or 80s.  Talon was eclipsed at that time by a Japanese zipper company called YKK.


This company, YKK, might be a brand you already know about because they are EVERYWHERE (in fact, I recently was listening to Outkast and noticed a line about YKK zippers!).  I dare you to check out a zipper near you and see if it says “YKK” on the zipper slide.


So what’s the deal with YKK, why are they everywhere?!


YKK was established in 1934 by Tadao Yoshida.  One of the things that made YKK the innovative company that they are (and help them continue to hold that title) is that YKK controls every part of their process.  They not only create zippers, but they create the machinery that create zippers. This allows the brand to be both innovative and reliable. And for any of us who have had a zipper break on their favorite piece of luggage or pants, it does not make for a happy customer.  


While brands are cost conscious about zippers, they are also aware that if the zipper in their $200 dress doesn’t hold up for years to come, it’s going to hurt their sales.  So, many major brands (and home sewers) trust YKK to be both reliable and affordable.


In recent years, many other brands offering cheaper zippers have emerged onto the market, one that is particularly notable is the Chinese brand SBS.


SBS was established in 1984, and they managed to steal away some larger, wholesale customers from YKK by providing cheaper zippers.   Today, SBS manufactures approximately 80 million zippers a month in their five locations across China!


You’ll find SBS zippers in many mid-level brands including Mango, the North Face, H&M and Target




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Let’s Fix a Zipper


Now that I know all about zippers, I went out to buy a replacement zipper slide for that broken zipper my sister sent me.  In fact I bought this little kit called Zipper Rescue. It includes 10 different zipper slides and stoppers for varying types of zippers.  They have different zipper rescue kits depending on your need (clothing, outdoors, etc). I got the clothing kit and gave it a try.



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Let’s Zip This Thing Up:


I’ll leave you today with a quote from Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography: “A dress has no life of its own unless it is worn, and as soon as this happens, another personality takes over from you and animates it, or tries to, glorifies it or destroys it, or makes it into a song of beauty.”


Thanks so much for listening.


If you’d like to learn more, you can check out my blog, www.curiousclothes.com, or you can find me on instagram, curiousaboutclothes.


See ya!


Sources:

  1. The History of the Zipper by Mary Bellis, March 9, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-zipper-4066245

  2. The History of the Zipper https://www.thomasnet.com/articles/hardware/zipper-history

  3. The First Use of a Zipper in Fashion? https://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/the-first-use-of-a-zipper-in-fashion/

  4. A Shock of Schiaparelli: The Surreal Provocateur Who Forever Altered Fashion, by Hunter Oatman-Stanford https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/a-shock-of-schiaparelli/

  5. 11 Types of Zippers and a Guide to Different Parts of a Zipper https://sewguide.com/zipper-anatomy-and-types/

  6. Types of Zippers https://www.textileschool.com/276/types-of-zippers/

  7. Find the Right Zipper for your Sewing Project , by Debbie Colgrove https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/what-type-of-zipper-do-i-need-2978512

  8. The $13 Billion Zipper Wars, by Edwin Jiang https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/the-13-billion-zipper-wars

  9. The History of Zippers: Talon, Universal, and Gideon Sundback, by Austin Bryant https://www.heddels.com/2014/05/history-zippers-talon-universal-gideon-sundback/

  10. Why Do So Many Zippers Say YKK? By Seth Stevenson http://www.slate.com/articles/business/branded/2012/04/ykk_zippers_why_so_many_designers_use_them_.html

  11. YKK Animated Short Film: Fastening Days https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSerAaac6EY

  12. https://sewguide.com/zipper-anatomy-and-types/

  13. https://www.textileschool.com/276/types-of-zippers/










(B)Research

Heyo! I’m back!  Welcome to Curious about clothes!

I know it’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that.  But I’m back and pumped to chat with you all about what’s happening in the world and it’s manifested in the things that we are currently wearing.

This week I want to talk about a specific subset of apparel start-ups- the direct to consumer lingerie industry.

I know, very specific!  But I promise, it’s worth digging into, it’s super fascinating and is directly related to all the other things happening in the world right now- economically, politically, technologically, and culturally.

Just to keep everyone on the same page, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “Direct to Consumer,”  or DTC for short, it means any brand that is selling exclusively on their website or catalogue, bot not through any department stores or retail stores of their own.

If you need an example of this- One of the big names in this industry is Bonobos.  Bonobos started out as a DTC company, although they are now owned by Walmart, they still operate as a DTC company.  They do have stores where you can try on the clothing and figure out the right size, but you can only shop online or through their catalogue.

Okay, back to lingerie.  

Let’s talk about the more recent history of lingerie, specifically bras, and how we’ve ended up where we are now.

Bras haven’t really changed much in in the past 30, maybe 40 years.  Ever since the 1970s when it became in vogue to have a more natural shape to your bra (ie- no more pointy bras of the 1950s), the bra-world hasn’t changed much.  Up until recently bras were either rhinestone and pushup, or utilitarian. Sports bras were sports bras and they were in a world totally of their own.

If you’d like to visualize this, think back to the year 1995, the year that Victoria’s Secret had their first runway show.  If you think back to those televised runway shows and the super stardom of Victoria’s Secret Angels, it was all about stilettos and rhinestones and impractical but beautiful lingerie.

Fast forward seven years and we start to see some change in the lingerie industry with the opening of the Victoria’s Secret Pink brand in 2002.  This brand was not only aimed at a younger consumer, it was (and still is) also a more playful company, selling product that was less dramatic and serious. The initial Pink product was sort of an early athleisure- a mix of feminine sweat pants and sporty but girly bras and underwear.  

Along this same line, in 2006 we see the opening of Aerie, the American Eagle underwear brand aimed at teens and young adults

And in 2008, Abercrombie & Fitch launched their lingerie brand, Gilly Hicks.

Pink, Aerie and Gilly Hicks were and are different brands from an aesthetic point of view, but were all aimed at the that younger, millenial customer, who wanted their undergarments, lounge and sleep wear to be comfy, cozy and cute.  No high heels, no rhinestones, but maybe a little bit of glitter.

A quick disclaimer- I’m sure there were smaller, independent brands doing similar things at that time, but I’m focusing in on Pink, Aerie and Gilly Hicks because these were the brands most accessible to the public at large.

Up until 2010, this was primarily the state of lingerie.  

Then, in 2010, Pinterest and Instagram were launched.

I’m going to argue that Pinterest and Instagram are what brought us to the place we are now, from a cultural standpoint and even lingerie standpoint.

Pinterest and Instagram took away the monopolized advertising power of brands.   Prior to 2010, any image we, as Americans saw, was an image crafted by a magazine or a company trying to sell us their product (and sometimes, those were one in the same, like the infamous Abercrombie and Fitch Quarterlies).  We were being told what was fashionable, what was sexy, what was cool.

Sure, OK, I’ll acknowledge that there were style and fashion blogs out there, but surely the launch of Instagram and Pinterest helped those bloggers promote their personal images to the greater world.

This was the was the genesis of the term “influencer,” because no longer did you have to be associated with a brand, famous, a super model etc. to influence popular trends.

Of course we saw some cross-over in this area.  People who were famous already, but used their fame to become influencers, for example, Kim Kardashian.

Even those without huge followings around the world started sharing images of their idea of what “beautiful” was.

 

Simultaneously, from about 2010 onward we have seen the growth of a new form of feminism, specifically, the idea of “inclusion.”

Inclusion can refer to a few things in the fashion world right now, for instance, inclusion can mean using an ethnically diverse group of models to showcase your clothing.

Inclusion can also mean offering gender neutral clothing to include people who feel that they don’t fit in either shopping men’s or women’s clothing.   This gender neutral clothing could be aimed at a women who feels that she is marginalized by wearing very feminine clothing and wants clothing that is more gender neutral but tailored to fit her body.

This idea of inclusion can also refer to sizing-  expanding your sizes to include a wider array of size options so that people of all sizes and shapes are able to shop your brand.

For our purposes today, we’ll be diving into the sizing portion of inclusivity,  since this is my area of expertise. But all forms of inclusivity are worthy of a deeper conversation because there really isn’t one right answer for how to be inclusive as a brand, and that’s why we are seeing so many new brands try to answer this question- how can you be inclusive as a brand?

Inclusive Fit

 

Alright, back to fit.

What does it mean to offer inclusive sizing?

Well, let’s talk about how sizing works today.

Every clothing brand has a size that they call the “base size.”   Generally speaking, this would be somewhere in the middle of their size range.  So lets say a women’s brand offers size XXS to XL, often that “base” size would be a size small or medium.

This means that when the style is being developed, it’s looked at in size small or medium.  The fittings are done on a size small or medium model. The fit is evaluated on this particular size.  

All other sizes, size XS or size Large, are create by making that garment either bigger or smaller.  

In other words,  the size XS and large are a derivative of the base size (size small or medium).

And this fact- that the other sizes (other than the base size) are derivatives and not evaluated and designed for that particular size, is what is encouraging a lot of new brands to offer clothing for a particular body type.

For instance, in the past, plus size women’s garments were generally extensions of that “base size” garment.   Although most companies fit their plus size garments on a model, that garment is still based on the same design and proportions as the size small or medium.  Some companies might change the plus style to have a thicker strap or add a short sleeve to a sleeveless garment, but generally speaking, a plus size garment is just a larger version of the base size garment.

This is the particular issue that has inspired a lot of new brands specifically aimed at the plus size customer.  We are seeing a lot of plus size influencers and bloggers who are calling out the fact that clothing isn’t designed for them- That making a garment bigger doesn’t mean that the garment fits and flatters them.   

 

I’m always weary of statistics, but word on the street is that the most common women’s size in America right now is size 14, yet most of our women’s clothing is catered to a size 4, 6 or 8.

 

If size 14 is the most common size, it means there is an untapped market out there, a market of size 14 and up who are not being thought about in the design process.  A market of women who may be very excited about a brand that makes them look and feel their best. A market of women who are willing to spend money on clothing catered to them.

 

And because of this opportunity for sales, we are seeing new brands who are catering specifically to this 14 and up market.

 

You may think I’ve gotten a bit off topic from direct to consumer lingerie companies, but actually, this tangent has brought up right back home.  Because it’s through this same line of thought, offering product specifically for the women’s size 14 that has brought us where we are now, with new, direct to consumer lingerie brands offering product specifically for a larger busted customer.

 

I spent some time this week perusing the Trusst Lingerie website.  This is a brand who points out that the fit, flatter and comfort issues of a smaller busted woman are totally different from a larger busted woman.

 

So, Trusst Lingerie has developed and designed their bras specifically for a larger busted women

Trusst Lingerie uses 3-D printing and bridge engineering principles to harness the "core of your body to lift your breast weight from underneath the bust, reducing strain on the shoulders and back."

The Trusst bras are also lined in the Garmex brand fabric called “Kottinu,” a fabric lauded for it’s cooling, wicking and anti-microbial properties.

But, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so I read a some customer reviews of these bras and found one happy customer who simply titled her review, "Lifesaving," that was particular inspiring.

This woman says that she had tried "literally every bra out there, including ones allegedly specifically designed for busty girls with smaller ribcages...I was legitimately considering surgery as a last resort until I saw an ad for this company and figured, what have I got to lose? Best decision ever."

As someone who works in fashion and focuses on fit, this kind of comment is what gets me out of bed every morning and sometimes even brings tears to my eyes.  

I'm excited about all of these new bra companies, not just because they are interesting from a fit, marketing, technology and logistics perspective, but also because they are serving a customer who had previously been left out, a customer who deserves, like all of us, to find clothing that fits them and flatters them and makes them feel like the best version of themselves :) .

Well, that’s all from me this week about the Direct to Consumer Lingerie Industry and INclusive sizing.  If you’d like to learn more, you can check out my blog, the address is www.curiousclothes.com.  You can also find me on instagram at curiousaboutclothes.

Thanks for listening!