Your $600 dress is hiding a nasty $2 secret
Last week, I got trapped inside my pants.
It was Oscars day and also the opening night of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, so you might say things were a little hectic.
That morning, I pulled on my polkadot culottes, fresh from the dry cleaner, and set off to work.
After three hours of red carpet coverage, I got up for a bathroom break, before commencing to write my report for the next day’s paper.
Only when I reached the bathroom, I couldn’t undo my pants. My zip was broken.
It’s not uncommon for zips to fail on garments but what many people don’t realise is that some of the country's most expensive designers are harbouring a cheap and nasty secret.
I’ve spoken to designers who have told me of spotting two-dollar zips in dresses that retail for more than $500. How can this be?
A Melbourne-based designer I know told me that the difference between a poor-quality zip and a "good" one is about $3. On thousands of garments, that $3 adds up and eats into the designer’s margins, so they roll the dice.
But a bad zip, even when it is manufactured by a third party, can ruin a garment, and cost future sales for a brand.
Natasha Fullard, who runs Designer Dress Hire Australia, is a stickler for zips. In the hiring business, a bad zip can put a garment out of rotation, and that means lost income.
She said she purchased one style from an Australian label but sent them all back when the zips faltered.
She said it's a common problem on invisible zips, and that the chemicals used in dry cleaning are also a contributor.
"I just replace them with normal zips if necessary. A lead pencil along the zip teeth can help," she says.
Julie Goodwin, who specialises in bespoke fashion, said she buys double or triple-strength zips for some pieces.
"It's such a tiny proportion of the cost of the garment," she said.
Goodwin said she learnt about the perils of cheap zips the hard way when she was starting out and overheard clients complaining about zips that were breaking.
"They just took for granted that all zips break easily," she said. "The difference in cost is so little ... many manufacturers prefer the look and feel of the lighter ones, they are not worried about wear and tear because – fast fashion."
Goodwin said consumers should look out for sturdier cotton zips, as opposed to the mesh ones, which are more prone to breakage.
Another thing consumers should do is inspect the zip of their garment. Does it glide easily? Does it have the imprint of a reputable manufacturer? (YKK is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading brands.)
Seamstress Jayne Coney, who works backstage at fashion weeks, said she frequently has to repair zips before they go on the catwalk.
"Most manufacturers put a cheaper zip in. There are better quality ones that people like Alex Perry put in dresses. Any pressure on the [fabric] pulls the teeth away and you get the zip splitting," she said.
Coney said manufacturers buying zips in bulk could be spending as little as 10 cents on a zip.
"I have a handful of really good zips and I guard them with my life. The cheap ones sell at Spotlight for $3.50. To get really good ones you have to go to suppliers."
If the zip fails in the first few months of owning the garment, return it to the place of purchase and ask for a repair or a partial refund to have it repaired at a quality tailor yourself.
As for me, I ended up having to dash home to have my partner cut me out of my pants with boltcutters. I lost precious work time not to mention the discomfort I was in for several hours. It's the last time I will ever shop with that brand. All over $3.