When Columbia Sportswear unveiled Olympic ski uniforms for three countries (check out the photos on our exclusive post from last week) the brand was also uncovering a small but vitally important detail that will soon find its way into many more of the company’s products — new zippers.
It’s branded as the Lightrail Zipper, and the new kind of closure is found exclusively on Columbia outerwear for Olympians. I got a first look at it during an event in Utah last week — the zipper is incredibly slim, flexible and light. Other than the zipper-pull, you have to look close to see the seam on a jacket.
“The goal was to create a lighter, easier to zip, more flexible (and packable), waterproof zipper,” said Columbia’s Jeff Mergy. “The PU zipper has long screamed ‘outdoor look/performance’ and we wanted to change the game on that — we wanted to go low-profile with a totally new aesthetic.”
Columbia’s zipper is bonded to laser-cut fabric using an adhesive similar to seam tape. This eliminates stitching bulk, zipper tape, and weight from the garment. It took a few years in development to bring to market.
The waterproof zipper is designed with a “dock” for the zipper head to eliminate any gap in the closure. The metal part of the zipper body is a new design that blocks water and directs it away from the inside of the garment.
“The zipper naturally lends itself for designers to get very creative with over-molding, design, and color selection to create the look they desire,” Mergy said. He noted that athletes and testers have been using the zippers in the field for about a year to ensure they are solid for the Olympics.
The LightRail zippers are used on pockets of Olympians’ jackets for now, but don’t be surprised to see them on the retail floor soon. Columbia says it’s too early to predict the exact timing of a release now, but we will keep our eyes peeled for announcements in the coming year. —Sean McCoy