This post is about the best zippers available and how they enhance clothing. Read on to learn about quality zipper brands.
Zippers go beyond function. Don’t get me wrong, function is important.
You’ll definitely notice it if your clothes fall out of your suitcase all over the baggage claim area or if you have a wardrobe malfunction in your pants, but choosing the right zipper and placing it or them in the right places can also enhance the style of your clothing.
Imagine a motorcycle jacket without zippers. Of course they serve a function, but if they were puny black zippers rather than bold metal the jacket wouldn’t have the same impact.
Clothing and accessory manufacturers know the value of finding the perfect zipper that will enhance an item. Often they want heft and visibility, while other times their goal is invisibility.
Always essential is smooth function and durability. There are a few major players in the market. The most luxurious manufacturers are centered around Italy.
Even when it comes to zippers and buttons, Italy reigns supreme. The luxury market is ours, as demonstrated by the voracity with which various foreign conglomerates are buying up the jewels of our manufacturing sector.Lapo Elkann, philanthropist, businessman, fashion & style maven
However, the bulk of zippers are still manufactured by Asian companies. This is not to say that they aren’t top quality, because they are, they are just more mass market than some of the artistic Italian brands.
After all, it isn’t easy to manufacture billions of zippers a year if each needs to be hand finished.
Zippers aren’t really as simple as they seem. They are made up of a number of parts that must each be well manufactured and work together harmoniously.
There are technical issues, as well as aesthetic issues, that must all be taken into consideration. Luckily all the manufacturers discussed here combine superior form with functionality.
The Many Applications of Zippers in Fashion
Zippers serve as more than just a functional part of a garment by giving clothes an “edge”. They are commonly used in motorcycle jackets and pants because of how well they pair with leather.
Zippers also go great with denim and some of the most fashionable jeans have more than just the front fly zipper.
In fact, zippers don’t even have to be functional – but can be merely decorative. Using only half of the zipper, with teeth exposed, draws attention to seam lines that enhance an overall design.
Zippers aren’t limited to pants or coats either. Designers use them as accents on tops as well, whether the design is casual, dress, or athleticwear based.
Zippers have also become an increasingly integral part of shoe design. They have always been used to zip up dress boots, but now designers are starting to include them on such diverse footwear as sneakers and casual boots and shoes.
For something that has only been in existence for a little over 100 years, the zipper has had an immeasurable impact on every aspect of our daily lives. It’s hard to imagine a world without them.
They keep our clothes on our bodies and in our luggage, hold our valuables safe, are part of personal protective gear, attach the synthetic lawns in our favorite ballparks, and are used in waterproof applications like lifeboats.
So exactly how did the zipper evolve, how do they work, and how do you know the zipper on your clothing is high quality? After all, if your zipper breaks, you may not be able to use that item again.
It’s in apparel manufacturers’ best interests to put quality reliable zippers that will even enhance the style of the item because you will probably blame the manufacturer if the zipper breaks, not the zipper manufacturer.
History of the Zipper
The history of the zipper is actually pretty brief. Elias Howe, Jr., the inventor of the sewing machine, received a patent in 1851 for the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure”.
He didn’t market his invention and nothing progressed until 44 year later when Whitcomb Judson marketed a “Clasp Locker” device that was based on hook and eyes. Even though his invention didn’t really work, he is usually credited as the inventor of the zipper.
To produce the clasp locker he formed the Universal Fastener Company and brought the device to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Zippers really became a functionally useful devise when the Swedish-born electrical engineer Gideon Sundback was lured from Westinghouse to join the Automatic Hook and Eye Company, later the Hookless Fastener Company, in 1914 as their lead designer.
The “Separable Fastener” of 1917 boasted several improvements. The number of fastening elements went from 4 to 10 or 11 per inch and the two rows of teeth were pulled together to form a single unit by the slider.
Sundback also created the machinery that would take a special Y-shaped wire and cut scoops out, make dimples, and clamp each scoop onto cloth tape.
It’s important to note that these fastening systems had a stop at the end so they weren’t separable. They became popular during World War I as the closure on money belts and tobacco pouches.
So Where Did the Name Zipper Come From?
B.F. Goodrich Company decided to use zippers as the closure on their new rubber boots. They took the name “zip” from the sound the fasteners made. While they weren’t able to trademark the name, they can take credit for great marketing.
Even though zippers were being used on pouches and boots, they weren’t used on apparel until French fashion designers created a marketing campaign in 1937 called the “Battle of the Fly” trying to persuade men that a zipper was preferable to buttons to close their trousers.
Esquire declared the zipper the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men”.
Designers like Elsa Shiaparelli and Edward Molyneux used them on their dresses and slim coats. The campaign succeeded and zippers gained in popularity.
The zipper became a useful part of military uniforms in World War II because of they didn’t require rationed metals and their speed and ease of use.
This was especially true when the Hookless Fastener Company, now renamed Talon, replaced the copper-nickel alloy teeth with plastic. They worked with DuPont on a new zipper design to replace the metal scoops with nylon spirals.
Zipper popularity also grew for aesthetic reasons – they have the added advantage that the nylon teeth and cotton or nylon tape can be dyed to match the clothing’s fabric.
The separating zipper was the last major innovation in the story of the zipper because they could be used on jackets. Of course, the types of materials used, reversible and flexible zippers, as well as the recent creation of a magnet zipper show that the zipper is ever evolving and improving.
However, the basic concepts and mechanisms haven’t changed dramatically since 1914, just how we use them in fashion.
What Makes a Good Zipper?
Regardless of who manufactures a zipper, the right kind of zipper, made from the most appropriate materials is essential.
- Metal zippers aren’t the first choice when items will be exposed to the elements, yet for heavy-duty applications they may be preferable.
- The use of invisible zippers are better for dressy applications.
- Some plastic zippers are capable of curving while others aren’t.
- Vislon® zippers resemble metal zippers but they have plastic teeth that are injected into the fabric tape. They are fairly stiff and are best when keeping them straight.
- If a garment has some curves, a Ziplon® zipper, or “coil” zipper works better. The closing structure is made from a coiled plastic. You find these on boat covers or U-shaped openings.
The most noticeable part of zippers is often the pull-tab. Separating zippers don’t have the bottom stop but a retainer box; larger sized teeth and a broader tape which are needed for heavier applications like coats.
Without getting technical, there are many different shapes of teeth. If you are interested in the technicalities of different metal zipper teeth shapes and attributes, SBS-Zipper has a great guide.
The Best Zipper Brands
There are several zipper manufacturers you may come across when shopping for clothing, luggage, and even sporting goods.
Who manufactured the zipper won’t sway your decision on purchasing an item, but it will definitely impact your enjoyment of wearing or using it. It’s just one more indication that you have purchased a quality item.
It’s easy to start with the zipper manufacturer that provides half of all zippers used in the world – over 7 billion a year. Luckily, they make quality zippers that are reliable. They are also innovators having created the Ziplon and Vislon designs.
This Japanese company has Research & Development and manufacturing centers all over the globe. Their quality control and reliability is a result of their vertical integration; they do everything from smelting their metals to manufacturing their shipping boxes.
This way they can make sure that every step in the process is as perfect as it can be. Most likely many of your clothes have YKK zippers on them. For an in-depth look at YKK either visit their website at YKK or read our article about them.
Riri is considered the “Rolls Royce of Zippers”. The company watchwords are unique and authentic with constant attention to customer satisfaction.
They offer two lines of zippers: Riri and Meras. Like YYK, they start with engineering innovations and refined design to create excellence.
Founded in 1936 in Mendrisio, Canton of Ticino, this Swiss-Italian brand has found loyal customers in Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Maison Martin Margiela, and John Elliott because of their highest quality minimalist designs which provide looks combined with smooth operation.
Riri is known for their Storm Zipper, for which they won the Swiss technology Award in 2004. The zipper was created to withstand extreme conditions and is used in safety and outdoor products.
Most of their zippers are dyable and they were the first company to die cast zippers onto nylon. Their durability allows them to withstand 160 pounds of pressure without breaking.
In addition to being elegant, Riri zippers are sustainable. They use recycled polyester tapes (2013), are OEKO-TEX Standard Certified (2010), ISO 9001 and 14001 certified (2004), use recycled packaging (2018), and use certified renewable electricity in all their plants (2019).
All their tapes are made with either recycled polyester or are Certified GOTS Organic Cotton. The company has high ethical standards and is completely transparent. You will find Riri zippers on luxury bags, leather jackets, jeans and dresses.
Lampo is another elite zipper made in Italy that has a worldwide presence. Lanfranchi Company, the parent company of Lampo, have been in business since 1887. Of course, usable zippers didn’t evolve until 1914, but the company started by making quality, innovative buttons.
During World War II, when their original markets, particularly England, became unavailable, the company transitioned to zippers, charmed by their use on aircraft jumpsuits.
While the zips and tapes meet high standards, what is noticeably elevated is their sliders and pulls. They have sleek designs in a variety of materials. For instance, they use zirconia ceramic structures that give some sliders a deep color that mirrors precision jewelry.
There are a multitude of shapes and finishes to complement a variety of high fashion apparel. Look for their logo on the underside of their pulls.
They are also known for their two-way or double and reversible zippers – those that can be zipped from either side in reversible garments. You’ll find Lampo zippers on Polo, Stella McCartney, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Prada, and Moncler clothing.
Designers who not only want quality fashionable zippers but are also concerned with sustainability like Lampo zippers. They are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified and members of Greenpeace’s DETOX initiative.
Their facilities are eco-friendly in construction and production and they’re big fans of using recycled and recyclable materials in their products and packaging.
Raccagni focuses on quality, research & development, and positive social policy. They are based in Bergano, Northern Italy, and started as a small firm in 1983.
They are more focused on bespoke manufacturing rather than mass production and have partnered with many designers and makers of quality luggage over the years.
They formed a partnership with Tom Ford in 2004 and have become the zipper that many other fashion houses choose including Mulberry, Paul Smith, Christian Dior, Rick Owens, Lanvin, MCM, Brunello Cucinelli, and Alexander Wang.
They ensure that all their zippers meet exacting standards of finish, appearance, and functionality. Their teeth are made from solid brass, rough edges are tumbled off so there is a seamless glide with no jamming and go through a meticulous polishing process.
Like YKK, they make their own machinery and molds to control the quality of their products.
Glossy zippers are not as well known, or quite the quality of the other brands discussed, but they are still a very high-quality zipper that is often considered the “off-brand Riri” zipper.
They are smooth gliding, with simple yet elegant pulls, and have a smooth glide. Notice the very high gloss finish on many of their items. They have the quality finishes of Riri, but are more aligned pricewise with YKK.
SBS is a relative newcomer. The Chinese company is 32 years old and is targeting more of the mid-level market. However, they are challenging YKK so many more of your clothes may be sporting their zippers. They currently supply Zara, H&M, and Calvin Klein.
Talon is the zipper originator – The Hookless Fastener Company changed their name to Talon in 1928. Through World War II they were the world’s leading zipper company. They have continued to manufacture quality zippers and innovate new designs.
They are as committed to sustainability and any other zipper manufacturer. They currently supply zippers to Brooks Brothers, Uniqlo, Levi’s, BCBG, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
While they are not in the same luxury league as some other brands, they still produce a quality product and have the honor of saying they are the originals.
The Future of Zippers
For a product that we take for granted, the not so humble zipper is really a complex piece of machinery that can be raised to the status of functional art.
Many of the manufacturers discussed use technology to make a zipper that solves very specific needs – from anti-viral protection to waterproof security. The Asian manufacturers of YKK and SBS are taking the lead in zipper innovation.
The luxury Italian makers are elevating zippers beyond function. They are combining metal and fabric to create some truly beautiful pieces (especially the pulls) that are then combined with fabric to make wearable pieces of art.
Whether functional or decorative, zippers are a part of our lives and designers continue to find new creative ways to use them beyond their original purpose as a closure.