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Zippers: The most underrated man-made invention of all time

Zippers are probably one of the most used inventions of all time. When you think about it, you probably always have one on you - from your pants, pencil case, hoodie, jacket, luggage, tent, and even your boots, if you were to tally up the number of times you touch a zipper in a day you would probably be surprised. Zippers are a 4.2 billion dollar industry. So why then, when we consider the materials used to make our clothes, bags, and outerwear, do we often neglect to think about where our zippers come from?


Let’s rewind for a minute. The concept of a zipper was first introduced in 1851 when Elias Howe came up with the idea of an “automatic continuous clothing closure”. Howe was a little preoccupied with the invention of the sewing machine at the time, however, so he never really got around to officially commercializing although he did get a patent. Decades later in 1893, Whitcomb Judson evolved Howe’s idea into what he coined the “Clasp Locker” and then later the “Judson C-Curity Fastener” (with a name like Whitcomb we aren’t surprised he was able to come up with such a cool name for his prototype). While it was obviously a good idea and was showcased at a couple of world fairs, his version had very large teeth that were difficult to close, making it unpopular with the public. In 1906, Judson hired Swedish engineer Otto Fredrick Gideon Sundback, who really made the design of the zipper “come together”. His prototype had a system of tiny interlocking teeth, and is the same system (minorly tweaked) that we know and love today.


Fast forward through the industrial Revolution - a modern zipper plant can now produce zippers for over seven million pants per day. You may be familiar with the letters YKK. Once you see them, you cannot unsee them. You’ll find the letter stamped on most if not every zipper pull you own. They stand for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha, the Japanese company founded in 1934 now producing most of the world’s zippers out of Qiaotou, China. That being said, YKK does have offices and plants all over the world, one of which is here in Montreal.

Zippers are a very important component of our designs, particularly for outerwear given that it’s the most used part of a jacket and therefore the first part to come apart and need replacing.

Every detail of our product has to be well thought out, which is why we finally decided to go with YKK Vislon, a robust zipper assembly that still provides ease of use even in -30°C weather.


display of ykk zippers


At BEDI our zippers come from the YKK Montreal manufacturing plant. You will notice the YKK stamp is missing from our zipper pullers, which is because we decided to have them made custom for the perfect grip and feel when opening and closing your jacket or bag. The custom pullers come from Japan and are given their matt-black finish after they arrive here in Montreal. We are so confident in the durability of our zippers that we offer a lifetime guarantee on our winter coats - and all of our products in fact.


close up picture of black sustainable hardware on a black utilitarian style camera bag


What other details come to mind when you really start thinking about the little things in your day-to-day life that may be overlooked? Are you interested in hearing more about how we source the insulation for our winter coats? The specifics behind where our seatbelt logo originated? We would love to hear from you - leave a comment on this post to let us know what you are curious about!


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