While to most people, a zipper may not be a garment’s most striking detail, for Gabriele Mosso, CEO of the Italian zipper manufacturer Nyguard, ‘it’s a fascinating object’.The idea for the zipper was born 125 years ago. Originally, sliding metal clasps were used, which tended to be cumbersome and become easily snagged. Modern zippers have clasps made of plastic and synthetic straps but otherwise, said Mosso, not much has changed about the basic idea for zips.
Today, however, as consumers are starting to become aware of the environmental impact of their clothing choices: how they are made, where - and what they are made of. Increasingly, the possibility of recycling is being raised as an end-of-life option for used garments.
“Recycling materials is generally difficult when different materials are firmly bonded together,” says Mosso. That’s as true for composite packaging as it is in this case for pants with zippers. Different types of synthetic textiles and accessories are difficult to properly separate.”
These different components - yarn, buttons, zippers - also tend to be sourced from different parts of the world.
“The latest challenge in textile is to achieve complete traceability and circularity in the value-chain,” said Alan Garosi, Head of Marketing at Fulgar, the Italian manufacturer of the yarns used by Nyguard for its zipper tapes. “A process in which all the synthetic textiles and accessories could be recycled together.”
At Nyguard, this led Mosso to ask: “Why not make the zipper out of the same material as the tape it’s attached to? From plastic, sure, but why not from a more sustainable, biobased plastic. And even better: from a material that would also be suitable for use to make the complete garment?”
His search led him to Evonik, and that company’s castor oil-based polyamide, Vestamid Terra. The castor bean is not a food source and the plant thrives in inhospitable conditions. As a result, there is no competition for land use, making it an ideal plant for bio-based solutions. For Nyguard, this became the direction the company decided to move in.
“We can’t compete with really big companies anyway - so we purposefully created a niche for ourselves,” said Mosso. Nyguard still occasionally produces zippers from plastic that is not bio-based. “But the proportion of renewable raw materials is moving strongly toward 100 percent.”
In pursuit of his goal to create products using just one material, Mosso also sought cooperation with textile manufacturers - including Fulgar. That company was open to the idea of using the bio-based Vestamid Terra to produce more sustainable yarn. As Garosi noted, in his twelve years as a marketing executive, he was now seeing ‘a significant shift toward sustainability in the fashion and apparel industry’. Moreover:
“The plastic from Evonik was an extremely good match for the polyamide we had been using,” he said. Interest in bio-based materials is strong, and it is growing, he added, especially in the premium segment.
A leading manufacturer of polyamide fibres, Fulgar produces 36 million kilos of yarn per year. With a nod to the manufacturer of the raw material, the company markets the yarn made from Vestamid Terra under the brand name EVO by Fulgar.
Evonik was the first company in the market to consider how to broaden the application potential for a bio-based nylon product, according to Johannes Krampe, Manager Filaments at Evonik’s High Performance Polymers business line. “And Fulgar was the first company to recognise the opportunities for textiles made from Vestamid Terra,” he added. Sustainability has become an important theme in the industry, with more and more companies are responding to their customers’ ambitions to “not to be part of the throwaway society,” as he phrased it.
Mosso has also noticed the change. “A few years ago, companies were interested in sustainable zippers but not yet willing to pay for them,” he said. However, since 2020, demand has been rising significantly, vindicating his decision to focus fully on bio-based plastics.
To Mosso’s knowledge, he remains the sole supplier in the market offering zippers made from biobased materials. He has now also created custom-made model designs of combinations of zipper and yarn, both made from Vestamid Terra, with which he is approaching customers. “We’re sort of doubling our sales strength there,” he says. “It’s true co-marketing. And it’s highly successful because it hits just the right nerve.”