At TrimLab, we work one-on-one with established and emerging fashion designers to customize and ensure the correct application for trimmings and fasteners of all kinds, from zippers and buttons to interlinings and specialty threads. These fasteners and trimmings make many of today’s most beautiful fashion designs possible. But did you know they play an important role in fashion history as well?
The zipper, for example, wasn’t patented until 1917, when a Swedish-American electrical engineer named Gideon Sundback designed what he called a “Hookless Fastener” (eventually known as the “zipper”) with two facing rows of teeth that pulled into a single piece by a slider. Before Sundback, the existing “zipper” design was based on hooks and eyes and, therefore, had a strong tendency to pull apart.
Looking carefully at Sundback’s rendering below, you’ll notice the specially shaped “bump” of one tooth nests perfectly into the “hollow” on the bottom of the next higher tooth of the opposing row. This design gives the fastener great crosswise strength, preventing it from opening when flexed. The design remains basically unchanged to this day. This was Gideon’s Triumph!
The zipper’s invention followed centuries of simpler techniques for fastening clothing. Cave men used slender bones to fasten skins. Romans invented brooches and buckles based on straight pin designs to fasten togas. Buttonholes to capture buttons evolved in the 13th century and hooks and eyes appeared in the 16th century. By 1900, the only fastenings were the safety pin, metal snaps, hooks and eyes, and buttons and laced fastenings.
With the mass production of ready-made clothing and shoes came world-wide competition among inventors and firms to make fastening clothing and shoes quicker and more efficient.
After working as a draftsman at the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, Sundback was hired by the Automatic Hook and Eye Company in 1909 as head designer. The patent awarded to Sundbach in 1917 was for the fastener he called “Hookless #2.” He also designed the machinery to mass produce them. The name “zipper” caught on after 1922, when Sundback worked with the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company to design rain overshoes with the new fastener. Goodrich called their novelty boots “zippers” in their advertisements. The boots were best sellers.
By the late 1930s, the zipper was successfully incorporated into manufacturing men’s trousers and women’s clothing. The cloth tape of the zipper allowed it to be easily attached to apparel. The zinc alloy metal of the modern zipper could be stamped out in one operation and would not rust when laundered. Sundback’s invention had become the basis of the world-wide zipper industry.
We pay homage to Sundback’s invention with a sculpture in our showroom based on Sundback’s drawings. By artist Paul Roy, the mahogany, maple and acrylic sculpture reminds us each day of the brilliance of Sundback’s design that plays such a large role in our industry today. And we soon we hope to display similar works of art inspired by our other fasteners and trimmings, each with a fascinating history of its own.
About the artist:
An artist/craftsman with a degree in engineering, Paul Roy works with wood, metal, glass and plastics to create aesthetic and functional pieces. Commissions for individual pieces such as “Gideon’s Triumph” have been the foundation of Paul’s work for more than 30 years. Whether it’s an art piece or custom furniture; interior layout design or the unique cabinetry to occupy it, Paul has the ability to bring creative ideas to life!
Contact Paul at 508-347-1504, 774-452-0767 or firstname.lastname@example.org