The YKK Zipper Trim-bassadors
In 1897, during the age of the pushcarts, AGH Trimsource began supplying thread and fasteners to the garment trade in New York’s Lower East Side. Today, they are the largest distributor of YKK zippers in the Western Hemisphere.
When a designer wants a signature zipper with their logo, AGH Trimsource will make it in their office at West 37th Street. They will cut the zippers to length, put the custom zipper pulls on, and stock them so if the designer needs the zippers for photoshoots or showroom samples, she will have them within an hour. When the sample zippers are ready to be manufactured for the market, AGH Trimsource will receive the business for production.
Where AGH Trimsource sends the production order depends on the type of zipper they need and how fast they can receive the shipment. The YKK plant in Marietta, Georgia manufactures the standard zipper while the higher end products are made in Asia. The Everbrite zipper for instance, which is shinier and has a higher corrosion resistance than the standard zipper, is made in Hong Kong and China. The really “fancy” product like the Conceal PRIFA, where logos, designs, or patterns are printed on the zipper tape, is only made in Japan.
AGH Trimsource became a YKK supplier in the 1960s when YKK unveiled their newest product, the conceal zipper. For eight years, they were the sole distributor and line of sales for that product group because YKK couldn’t manufacture enough to keep up with the demand. During that time, there were 24 other zipper suppliers in New York City. But today, “we are literally the last guy standing,” says Dave German. “There was such a tremendous amount being produced in the U.S. and then it went overseas. If you didn’t adapt, you were going to be out of business.”
Dave has been working at AGH Trimsource for over 40 years with Roy Katz (Roy is now semi-retired) and their fathers were the founders of the company Accurate Notion, the “A” in AGH. In the 1960s, the Goldstein bothers, also zipper suppliers, merged with Accurate Notion to become Accurate Goldstein. Then Hirsh, a thread supplier to the garment factories in the Pennsylvania and New England regions, merged with Accurate Goldstein around 1972 to become AGH.
When manufacturing began going overseas in the late 1990s, AGH Trimsource established an office in Hong Kong in conjunction with a button company in 1998 and became a YKK Hong Kong distributor. The move allowed them to make samples in New York, satisfying the designers’ demand for quick service, offer competitive production prices, and continue what they enjoy doing the most, working with emerging designers.
AGH Trimsource likes to tell the story about the original concept of working with the emerging designer.
In the 1970s, there was a young woman starting her business who would come in the office twice a week to work with Dave German, then involved with new customers. She would bring her swatches to match the suit to the zipper colors and write down the lot numbers so she knew which lot to order from because some lots matched better than others. She was very meticulous. At first it was just her, her husband, and two partners. The first collection sold and she got her first studio on 40th Street at the southwest corner of Bryant Park. Even as her business grew to 9,000 people, she would continue to visit AGH Trimsource all by herself. That designer was Liz Claiborne.
“Dave would work with Liz on a personal level,” says Bob Sadin, the Director of Marketing. “He became a family member, not just because he worked with colors and worked to service them. It was the way he did it. He did it from the position of honesty, of support, and sharing his experience for them to learn what was best for their mission.”
Bob received his original education in the industry through Talon Zipper, a company founded in 1893 in Meadville, Pennsylvania that at one point produced 70% of all the zippers in United States. (Talon Zipper was pushed out the market by YKK.) After two years, Bob left and joined American Notion Company, a trim business founded in 1918 on the same premise as AGH Trimsource, the pushcarts down on the Lower East Side. Bob eventually became an equity owner at American Notion Company. When his partners who were thirty years his senior retired, he took over the business. In 2001, Bob merged American Notion Company with AGH Trimsource.
“As we get older and more experienced, we use the experience we have in working with companies, small and large, to perfect a specific product for an application,” says Bob.
A couple of years ago, a designer asked for a conceal zipper that would have a dual function as a separator, allowing the wearer to get in and out of the dress, and a design element, allowing for an adjustable slit from the bottom. A fastener like this did not exist but sounded very interesting. Bob began playing around with a few samples and figured out a way to place an additional slider on the bottom. Using a soldering iron to produce another set of top stops, he created a two way conceal zipper. Bob sent the sample to AGH Trimsource’s factory in China to see if it could be made on production scale. It could and the factory ran with it.
AGH Trimsource has always been working closely with designers to bring their ideas to life and help them avoid the pitfalls which end in financial loss. But they had a bigger vision to give back to the new crop of designers.
When the space next to their office opened up in 2013, Roy Katz suggested that they try and recreate the atmosphere that was AGH Trimsource in the past by establishing TrimLab, a showroom and product development center. AGH Trimsource brought in five other trim companies under the TrimLab umbrella to utilize the relationships and knowledge they all have across different product lines, whether it be industrial and embroidery sewing threads, metal or plastic fasteners for swimwear and sportswear, or foam pads for the intimate apparel industry. In essence, it is a one stop shop for designers to get all their trimming needs. Sometimes, the TrimLab companies are making sure there is compliance, if a designer is making a product for the children’s industry for instance, but other times, they are coming up with novel applications.
Since TrimLab’s opening three years ago, 360 start-ups have come through the door.
“TrimLab has been for us the greatest project,” says Dave. “We meet the most fascinating businesses you could imagine. Some are coming in and making a skirt but some are coming in and making a back support which is phenomenal.”
One designer devised a tank top that turns into an athletic bag. TrimLab created a zipper that opens up the bottom of the shirt so it can carry sneakers or other clothes out of the gym. Another designer developed a bag that charges the iPhone.
One of the lessons Dave German learned from Liz Claiborne’s husband is that, when he wanted something done, he would say, “This is what I want” and people would tell him it is impossible. To which he would reply, “It’s not impossible. Just tell me how much it is going to cost and how long it is going to take.”
It is a similar message Bob and Dave tell their young clients: “We are only limited by your imagination.” If you envision it, there is a good chance we can come up with a fastener that would enhance your design.
Of the 360 start-ups, one or two might be the next Ralph Lauren or Liz Claiborne but it doesn’t happen overnight, it is a building process. They start manufacturing one basic product then begin expanding the line. Those that do reach the level of Liz Claiborne will hopefully remember the people that got them there.
“Next year will be the 120th anniversary of the conglomerate, genealogy of AGH,” says Bob. “That is another reason to have a party. I went on the internet to see what companies were established during 1897 and AGH was in business the same year as Dow Chemical. So we like to say that we have been around as long as Dow Chemical. I wish we were making the money that they are but whatever, it is what it is.”