I learned a whole lot about zippers this week. That’s because I got to interview Alicia Werner, aka “the zipper lady.” Since 1994, Werner has been supplying zippers to anyone who needs them all over the world. She stocks zippers in five weights and 91 colors, any length you might need, and she can get them to you in a hurry.
A fifth generation native of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, Werner headed for the bright lights of Fort Collins and Colorado State University when she finished high school. She earned a degree in textiles then headed for Parsons School of Design in New York where she graduated then went to work in bridal gown manufacturing.
After a stint in Milan, Italy designing furniture, an MFA in weaving from CSU and a degree in international farm marketing from California Polytechnic Institute, Werner settled in Vail, Colorado where she established a slipcover and drapery business that eventually grew to 19 employees.
But she never gave zippers a second thought until the day she got a desperate call from a supplier who had agreed to ship 700 pillows to a customer and then learned that the person who was to sew them had suddenly quit. “I need them in two weeks,” he told Werner.
“No problem,” she replied.
That was before she went looking for the 700 black zippers she needed to do the job. What she didn’t know was that it was nearly impossible to buy them. She tried supplier after supplier who put her off with comments like, “We don’t sell to little ladies with loving hands working at home,” or “Fifty thousand is our minimum order,” or “We can deliver in six months.” She eventually found a company who could supply them but had to drive to Anaheim, California to get them in time.
She began to give zippers some thought. A son who was in Hong Kong at the time did some research for her. She went to that part of the world and made several contacts who have become her suppliers. Today she sells zippers for tents and backpacks, clown shoes and wedding dresses, separating zippers and invisible zippers, big fat zippers and skinny little zippers. Her warehouse overflows with them, on spools and in big colorful piles.
No one knows about her in Fort Collins. She doesn’t have a single local customer but you can bet that her zippers are holding things together and allowing them to come apart when necessary all over town. Her warehouse is hidden away on the east side of Fort Collins and I suspect that its presence means that there are more zippers in Northern Colorado than there are anywhere else in the state—or even in the mountain west. And Alicia Werner has found her niche.