Batavia, N.Y. (WBEN) - Nancy Peters and her son, Scott, thought a lot about zippers. Not many people have considering its universal design, like many other clothing closures, haven’t changed in ages. But Nancy and Scott Peters thought about them a lot for several years.
They decided they had seen Nancy’s brother struggle for too long with zippers. Dave has muscular dystrophy, lives alone, and was ill-equipped for this last Western New York winter because he couldn’t zip up his winter coat.
Nancy is a registered occupational therapist at Summit Physical and Occupational Therapy in Batavia and treats people with disabilities who have limited dexterity. They struggle with zippers, too, she thought. Then there’s her grandchildren, who can’t properly zip up their jackets until they get past kindergarten. There had to be answer to make things easier for disabled people, older adults and young children.
A zipper. It’s always been the same, looked the same and functioned the same. Scott, an engineer, was determined to find a solution, not just for Dave, but for everyone who struggles with disabilities.
After much trial -- and much error, they along with a childhood friend and mechanic engineer, Dave Lyndaker, of Holley, came up with the Magzip. “We thought, ‘Maybe we could make a better zipper,’ Nancy said. “It’s not so great, it’s hard to use. You need two hands. Then we started brainstorming about how we could make a better zipper.”
Under the company DNS Designs (drawing from their first initials), the three innovators set out to change the zipper.
They even revolutionized it enough to sign a licensing agreement with athletic clothing mega company Under Armour.
Tinkering with designs for almost two years, the three worked as a team. “Dave was able to design them and we’d get them made, either by machine or rapid prototype” Scott said, “and then I would assemble them onto zippers and my mom would sew them into jackets and take them over to my Uncle Dave and let him try them out and see if they helped them out and we went through that iteration for quite a while.”
Scott and Dave, being engineers, are natural tinkerers and always looking for a better model or design. Dave had experience working with small parts and they determined the magnets were the way to go. There was a lot of fine-tuning before they came up with a suitable and reliable prototype. They experimented with about two dozen iterations before tinkering even more with those prototypes to find the exact right one.
It was Uncle Dave who ultimately judged their success in finding that. Scott says there was no “Aha!” moment once they stumbled upon the best prototype; but rather, it was a gradual, intricate process throughout that brought them to the best Magzip. For Nancy, seeing her brother, Dave, work the design was a heartfelt congratulation. “We have this bad weather in western New York. He had trouble going out in the cold because he wasn’t able to zip up his coat. He can now,” Nancy said. “He wouldn’t be without (the Magzip). It’s such a big difference and he’s so proud of these guys and all of us for having made it, but it also made his life easier.”
Here’s how it works. They designed a new base for the zipper as a new way to start. The zipper itself hasn’t changed and will still zip up and down, but what’s different is now the base has magnets on each side. If you bring the base close together, the magnets attract and lock together automatically to begin the one-handed zippering process. That means no aligning the pin, or the skinny side, up into the zipper before pulling up.
Under Armour, always looking for innovation, was attracted to the idea. Now they needed to find a way to get it to consumers. They went looking for partnerships with established manufacturers instead of taking to market themselves. The three went knocking on clothing manufacturers and zipper companies’ doors; but when push came to shove, trying to get a company to sign up to take the Magzip to market was a challenge.
One day, their patent agent got a call from an Under Armour lawyer. Scott and Dave presented at the company’s annual innovation show and impressed executives. Nancy says there was another stroke of luck. In their quest to advance and innovate the zipper, Under Armour representatives stumbled across the Magzip’s informative website.
After all the work and miniscule adjustments, reaching a licensing agreement with Under Armour was cause for celebration.
“That was pretty great,” Scott said, laughing at his understatement. “It was opening champagne time,” Nancy said.
“The culmination of years and years and countless hours,” Dave said. The licensing deal with Under Armour involves a US-based zipper manufacturer, though Under Armour has exclusivity. The company told the three they’re planning to put the Magzip into production this fall.
They’re eager to see their innovation in action. “I think it will be interesting to stand back and quietly observe some people using them and see what their reactions are,” Scott said. “I keep thinking of walking into Dicks (Sporting Goods), and to see a coat with our zipper on it is going to be like, ‘Whoa!’” Nancy said.
It was a successful endeavor for the occupational therapist and the two engineers from western New York, but will it be a one-hit wonder for the trio? “We’ve have a lot of different ideas we’ve toyed with,” Scott said. “Granted, it not like we have a large, full-time business that we’re focused on, but at the same time, we like to work together and innovate and I think we have a nice start here with the first product we developed so hopefully it will evolve into some different projects.”
The people the trio originally wanted to help are benefitting already -- not just Uncle Dave, who, in a way, started this whole venture, but kids, too. “We’ve put it in jackets for my grandchildren,” Nancy said, “and kids can do this zipper much younger. Usually, in kindergarten, the teacher is having to zip up all those kids, but if they had this zipper, they could do it themselves at 2 or 3 years old.”
As they await the Magzip’s debut to the masses, they were able to reflect on what the small group was able to accomplish.
“The partnership that we have with a couple of engineers and an occupational therapist has provided a different way to look at some of the daily struggles people have,” Scott said. “With my mom providing some of the insight with some general challenges people have, that fuels Dave and I to come up with solutions to those challenges. You have to be able to define a problem that people are having and as an engineer, you’re always driven to find solutions to that that people like.”