Making Fashion Circular: YKK and Repair Rebels Collaborates



Making Fashion Circular: YKK and Repair Rebels

We are excited to announce a collaboration between YKK and our venture Repair Rebels in promoting the repair culture of fashion goods in Germany.

Zippers are being used everywhere – pants, boots, bags, furniture, and even on the Rolling Stones album cover. Billions of zippers are made every year, but some zippers also break. A broken zipper is often the reason why garments or shoes end up not being worn or are even ditched in to the bin. YKK is the market leader in zipper production and is known for its ubiquity and long tradition of producing goods of exceptional quality.

The History of Zippers

Although today we cannot imagine the fashion industry without a zipper, the road to “zipper fame” was not as easy as one would think. It took decades to invent zippers as we know them today and further decades to convince the public to accept them.

The first to patent the invention of the zipper in 1851, was the American Elias Howe, Jr. He named it an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” (Bellis, n.d.). Howe did not continue to work on the zipper, as his 1846 invention of the modern sewing machine took the world by storm and changed the way people made clothing (MacDonald, 2012).

The second attempt came forty years later. n 1893 inventor Whitcomb Judson marketed a “Clasp Locker” device that was similar to the one described in the 1851 patent (Bellis, n.d.). Being first to market the invention, Whitcomb got credit for being the “inventor of the zipper.” However, the “Clasp Locker” hook-and-eye shoe fastener was a complicated device and had little commercial success.

Several decades later, a Swedish-born electrical engineer named Gideon Sundback worked for a company that produced the “Clasp Locker” device. He spent years perfecting it and in 1913, on April 29th, came up with the idea that looked similar to the modern zipper – “Hookless Fastener No. 1”. He continued to improve the invention and in 1917 a patent for “Separable Fastener” (Bellis, n.d.) was issued. This was the birth of the zipper as we know it today.

Although the zipper saw success in the rubber boots and tobacco pouch industry, some critics labeled the device as a morally corrupt invention. They argued that the zipper made it too easy to remove one’s pants. Therefore, it took another 20 years for the fashion industry to recognize this novel way of closing garments.

The first big customer was the U.S. military, which used zippers for money belts worn by soldiers and sailors who lacked uniform pockets (Klein, 2018). The fashion industry only took an interest in zippers in 1930 when a children’s clothing campaign featured zippers. It was portrayed as a helpful device for children to be more independent and to dress themselves more easily.

Japanese Company that Mastered the Art of Zipper Production

YKK – are letters, which everyone must have seen. They can be found on pretty much every fashion good from jeans to dresses, to boots and sleeping bags. YKK is a “Global Leader” in the zipper industry. The company was founded in Tokyo, Japan in 1934 and now operates in 72 countries around the world.

Besides its famed product quality, one of the main reasons why YKK is such a big name in the zipper industry is the variety of zippers they manufacture – coil zippers, metal zippers, custom sliders – you name it, YKK makes it all.

Rooted in its Japanese culture, the Company cares deeply about its environmental footprint. Even by 1994, YKK had introduced the first zipper made from recycled material and has been focusing on creating sustainable products that minimize their impact on the environment ever since.

A Little Step for Humankind and a Big Step for Repair Rebels

We celebrate every victory, small or big but when YKK, the biggest zipper producer in the world, sees the importance of clothing repair and decides to partner with Repair Rebels by gifting their high-quality jeans zippers, it calls for a big celebration. Therefore, we are glad to announce that the next few hundred denim zipper replacements will be made using the highest quality YKK metal zippers. 

João Matias, YKK Europe Sustainability Specialist, explains “More and more people have started to realize that clothes should be long-lasting and that they are not just a consumable product meant to last a few wears. Although small, a faulty zipper can make the whole garment unwearable. That is why our company’s slogan is “YKK Little Parts. Big Difference®”. We know that high quality zippers can extend the life of garments, and that is why we believe Repair Rebels’ mission is an important one. Thus, we are hoping this collaboration can boost the growing movement of sustainability in fashion”.

Therefore, we are grateful for YKK’s support to kick-start our project and hope for our relationship to evolve into a long-term business partnership. Fast Fashion has made repairing clothes in western economies rather obsolete. With a strong partner on our side, we aim to drive a large-scale cultural change and make clothing repairs a socially and economically viable alternative to buying new.

“We believe Repair Rebels’ mission is an important one. We are hoping this collaboration can boost the growing movement of sustainability in fashion“