Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Decline of the Zipper

I am pretty good at replacing zippers on coats. I spend some of my free-time at work replacing zippers on children's coats. I work in a high-needs area and sometimes the coat the child is wearing is the only one he has (or will have) that season. So the children learn to wrap the coat to bundle up against the wind once the zipper stops working. And I've learned that when I child is wrapping his or her coat, I need to check the zipper. Once that is finished, it's as good as new.

Zippers are pretty complicated technology.

Here is a definition (taken from Wikipedia):

A zipper ( zip or (rarely) zip fastener) is a commonly used device for temporarily joining two fabric edges. It is used in clothing(e.g., jackets and jeans), luggage and other bags, sporting goods, camping gear (e.g., tents and sleeping bags), and other daily use items.

The zipper is a simple machine. It has a lot of value in that, if your coat doesn't have one, you know it on a cold winter day but generally, zippers are quite cheap, ranging from 60 cents to ten bucks at the very most. It used to be that zippers were metal and I certainly don't remember any of my coats having broken zippers when I was young. But nowadays, they seem to made increasingly of plastic and for some reason, the plastic ones break. In fact I have never changed a metal zipper than I can recall. I change the plastic ones all the time.

A zipper track is made up of dozens of teeth, arranged in a pattern (tooth, space, tooth space) on one side and the opposite pattern on the other (space, tooth, space, tooth).  The idea is to latch every hook on each of the two tracks into a hollow on the opposite track. The slide pushes the hollows into the space opposite them. When you look at the slide mechanism up-close its actually quite amazing.

For the zipper to work properly, each tooth must be exactly the same size and shape, and they all must be perfectly positioned on the track. If the teeth are securely in place, the zipper works without notice. But if the teeth become loose, they render the zipper useless. It seems the plastic zippers have less secure teeth and become broken more easily.

Now, here's the frustrating part: I buy my zippers at the fabric store and the plastic ones are about 10 cents less than the metal ones. So I am assuming Old Navy, when they make hundreds of, let's say, cardigans, gets the zippers at a bulk rate. This means that the cost would be less than a dime to upgrade to a zipper that will last for the lifetime of the garment. Yet, they don't do it! Amazing! I'm sure it's better for their bottom line when companies forgo the chance to upgrade for minimal expense but the cost of that to the child is incredible.

Isn't it amazing that when people are already shelling out $40 to $60 for a child's coat, that is only going to last a season or so anyway, the stores can't be bothered to put in proper zippers that will last for that short duration?

Times are very hard right now. I've changed 12 zippers and the real cold hasn't even set in.


  1. The zippers on my coats always break too! I'll look for metal zippers before I buy. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I've had some problems with some metal zippers, the biggest one being when they come apart on the wrong side of the slider. It can happen, but it doesn't happen very often. Probably the plastic in plastic zippers is too flexible, making it easier for the two sides to work free from each other.

  3. My zipper works fine. And its plastic. I've never had a zipper break.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...