After more than 100 years, the zipper has finally gotten a makeover, thanks to inventor Scott Peters, his mom, and his physically challenged uncle.
Peters' uncle, Dave Peters, has myotonic dystrophy, a degenerative disease that limits the use of his hands. Lack of manual dexterity was an especially tough challenge during frigid upstate New York winters, when zipping up his jacket was a frequent and exasperating task.
Peters and his mother, Nancy Peters, who is an occupational therapist, decided to help Uncle Dave out by coming up with a zipper that was easier to manage.
"There were things we wished we could do for him and for some reason we latched onto the idea we could help him zip up his jacket," Peters recalled.
The zipper was first introduced at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Except for a few tweaks here and there over the years, it's pretty much remained unchanged since then: two rows of teeth facing each other that are pulled together in a single line by a slider to close, and then pulled down by the slider to open. Most zippers employ a "box and pin" design at the bottom to lock the two sides into place. It's cheap and easy to manufacture, but at times maddeningly impossible to align.
Peters and his mom started out by cutting the bottom off of a jacket then gluing magnets to the base of a conventional zipper, reasoning this would hold the ends closed and make it easier to zip. It didn't work but they had a hunch that magnets were the way to go, so they kept at it.
Enter their lifelong neighbor, Dave Lyndaker, an experienced mechanical designer who had spent years designing tiny mechanical parts and circuit boards. After a quick discussion around a campfire in the summer of 2007, Dave joined the team and they began producing test zippers at a brisk pace. Every time they completed a promising prototype, they'd sew it into a jacket for Uncle Dave to try out.
Finally, six years and more than 100 prototypes later, they came up with a design that worked. Their "Quickzip" relies on a "hook-and-catch" design. The magnet on one side of the jacket pulled the pin from the other side over the top of a catch and guided it into place. Once the first set of teeth are joined, the user can grab the slider and pull the zipper closed with ease - even with one hand.
With their device working well, the team formed a company, DNS Designs LLC. They originally intended to file a patent for medical use but quickly realized their zippy little invention could be helpful to everyone who's ever struggled with a zipper, from quick changing triathletes to little kids just learning to use their hands.
"Once we tried it we realized it was way better than your average, run of the mill zipper," Lyndaker said.
They began contacting clothing companies and zipper manufacturers. But in the end, Under Armour, a high-end sports clothing company, found them through a patent search and came knocking on their door. After initial talks, Under Armour invited the DNS team to one of its innovation shows in Baltimore. Now DNS has signed an exclusive deal with the company.
Peters said jackets and sweatshirts featuring the zipper - now rebranded as Magzip - will go on sale sometime before the end of this year. Though the team didn't start out with any commercial ambitions, Peters said they hoped they would be able to change the world in some small way.
"It wasn't just Uncle Dave who was frustrated with zippers," Peters said. "A lot of people are, and we hope this makes their lives a little easier."