Driving Forces for Zippers Changing, End-Users Will Exert More Influence Soon

Zipper major YKK is conducting lifecycle assessment of all its products to help guide development of sustainable trims, even as the fashion element is changing for this fashion accessory with consumer-led demands.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • The challenge for a small accessory like the zipper is to guarantee style and beauty with a high level of functionality, performance and sustainability.
  • Material science, especially sustainable materials (recyclable, biodegradable, etc.) are an important factor for zippers.
  • YKK has been conducting trials with a number of brand partners and recyclers to test new products designed for garment recycling systems.  
YKK
Zipping through After many years of development, YKK has a new version of the AquaGuard variant using C0 agents (do not contain fluorocarbons) but maintaining the water-repellent function, and it has improved the overall zipper functionality as also smooth operability. YKK

Zippers are not anymore what they used to be even 20–30 years back. Today, they are a fashion element. How is the fashion element changing for zippers? What are the driving forces: end-users or brands?
A zipper became an integral fashion element that can be the garment's main feature. It can also 'make' or 'break' the outfit. The zippers can play a decorative role, but their primary, functional role will be the most important one. The fashion element is changing for the zipper. For example, our Vislon with Magnetic Closure zipper is a product that has magnets embedded in the left and right openings. The magnetic force of the magnets allows the zipper to be closed simply by bringing the openings closer together. Because it is easy to operate without looking at the product, it is expected to be used in a wide range of fields, including for quick clothing changes in sportswear, children's wear and universal fashion, but it also remains a decorative element of the clothing. The driving forces for zippers are changing: although the final decision is still on the brand's side, we will observe more influence from end-users soon. Consumers are well-informed these days and environmentally cautious. Therefore, at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be making the final decision when it comes to purchasing. We have to keep this in mind.

Zippers are almost unnoticeable, but they need to be fashionable too. How does YKK's R&D team ensure this?
As you say, zippers are not the protagonists. So, we are studying simple appearance and functional beauty. Aesthetics will always be the first target for fashion; the challenge for our small accessory is to guarantee style and beauty with a high level of functionality and performance, and that is exactly what YKK’s R&D teams are constantly working on.

Today, there are many restrictions on materials used for zippers. Have the restrictions affected functionality? Or. have zippers moved ahead of the times? Also. do you see more restrictions / standards on the usage of materials?
Sustainability is one of YKK’s most important management policies. When we develop new zipper items using new eco-friendly materials, often the zipper quality/functionality (strength etc) decrease during the initial stage of the development. However, we always try to overcome these technical challenges and aim to achieve better quality/functionality than the previous item. An example is AquaGuard (water repellent zippers).

Previously, YKK had been using C6 agents which contain fluorocarbons. Fluorocarbons help repel water and oil from fabrics. However, they are now known to be dangerous substances to the environment. After many years of development, we now have a new version AquaGuard using C0 agents (do not contain fluorocarbons) but maintaining the water-repellent function, and we have improved the overall zipper functionality as well (more smooth operability). As environmental concerns grow globally, we expect more material restrictions in the future. But as YKK has always been doing, we will try to be one step or more ahead of the restrictions that we anticipate will be brought to the market

One of the many factors that will decide apparel’s future is material science. Do you think this will also be true for clothing accessories like zippers?
Yes, apparel is considered to be the second most polluting industry after oil; so material science, especially sustainable materials (recyclable, biodegradable, etc.) are an important factor for zippers.

The fashion world is also slowly moving towards recycling. Therein zippers are an issue. What can zipper manufacturers do so that recycling becomes seamless? Are you collaborating or exchanging ideas with both garment producers and recyclers over this?
Trims in general are a challenge within most garment recycling systems. YKK has been working with garment recyclers globally to understand what their systems can and cannot handle. We have been conducting trials with a number of brand partners and recyclers to test new products designed for garment recycling systems.  

YKK this year launched a new collection of recycled zippers. Can those be recycled in turn? Have you done any LCA analysis of these?
YKK has been producing zippers made from recycled materials for over 27 years. Some of these products can be recycled in existing recycling systems. We are currently conducting LCA analysis of not only our products made from recycled materials, but also the products that are not so that we can fully understand the impacts of all our products. This will help guide our development of even more sustainable products.

We believe in building products that last a lifetime. However, no matter how well we make our products zippers can break. To address this, we work closely with brand partners that offer garment repair to supply them with the components they need. We are constantly developing new repair parts to make repairs quicker and easier.

YKK
TRIM TASK Trims in general are a challenge within most garment recycling systems. YKK has been working with garment recyclers globally to understand what their systems can and cannot handle. YKK

Please tell us about your collaboration with GTT on the waterproof zippers.
YKK has been working with GTT to make use of their Empel technology on zippers. We are hoping to use the technology to create a water-resistant zipper that does not require a PU film to achieve its water repellency. Current garment recycling systems cannot handle PU material, so creating a water-resistant product without a PU film would be a big step forward towards circularity. So far, our trials are extremely encouraging and we are hoping to release products with the technology by the end of this year.

The new Touchlink zippers are hi-tech. What's the scope of such zippers? Do you see their acceptance in the high-end market? Surely, those are expensive?
Touchlink zippers with their embedded NFC chips enable a whole new range of services and functionalities. The technology allows brands to stay connected to customers, gives consumer access to much more information about the products they own, and helps to enable businesses such as resale and rental. Because Touchlink  supports the Circular ID Protocol, it acts as a digital product passport enabling the possibility of giving consumers detailed information about the production and materials used in the product. This information is also critical for garment recyclers to help ensure the product makes it into the correct recycling process. With product passports being discussed as part of the upcoming EU textile and apparel legislation, we see Touchlink playing an important role in meeting these requirements. For a modest upcharge over a conventional zipper puller, Touchlink can unlock a host of valuable services and functionalities.  

Synthetic fibres [as in fossil fuel fibres] are still synthetic fibres, recycled or not. When will be see zippers that are totally biodegradable?
We have invested time and money into research trying to find synthetic materials that will truly biodegrade. There is a lot of incomplete knowledge concerning biodegradable synthetic fibres and we have yet to find one that is truly biodegradable without causing other environmental problems such as the diffusion of microplastics. YKK currently makes zippers with cellulosic tapes that will biodegrade over time. However, they contain metal teeth which will not break down.

YKK made significant progress in cutting down all Scope 1, 2, 3 emissions. How did you go about doing it? And how do you plan to improve on this in the coming years?
Our approach to reducing emissions has been multifaceted. We have increased our use of renewable energy powering our factories by installing solar panels and entering into contracts with providers of clean power. We’ve also installed new energy efficient equipment, increase production efficiencies, and developed new more sustainable production processes. Additionally, we are expanding our portfolio of sustainable fasteners and converting all of our textile components to recycled and sustainable materials. To reach our targets we’ll continue to invest in clean power generation and new more efficient processes and equipment. In 2022 alone, we will be installing solar power generation at an additional 21 facilities globally.

Last: the world is also (hopefully) moving towards an ecosystem where products either last a lifetime or they can be repaired. What is YKK's position on repairing zippers (as in people repairing themselves)?
Durability has always been a core value of YKK since the start of the company over 80 years ago. We believe in building products that last a lifetime. However, no matter how well we make our products zippers can break. To address this, we work closely with brand partners that offer garment repair to supply them with the components they need. We are constantly developing new repair parts to make repairs quicker and easier. We also offer these components to third party resellers who sell them to consumers interested in repairing their garments themselves.

The driving forces for zippers are changing: although the final decision is still on the brand's side, we will observe more influence from end-users soon. Consumers are well-informed these days and environmentally cautious. Therefore, at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be making the final decision when it comes to purchasing. We have to keep this in mind.

 
 
  • Dated posted: July 13, 2022
  • Last modified: July 13, 2022