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Is Your Zipper Real?

Barely a week ago, I wrote about a company in Brooklyn that fixes Chinese manufacturing mistakes, and asked for similar examples. Some of you posted your stories (I loved the one about the white polymer resin that got contaminated by small black cylinders that looked like “rat turds”).

The Wall Street Journal was good enough to chip in as well. It ran a front-page article yesterday about a guy in L.A. named Barry Forman, who retired from the garment industry 14 years ago because too much manufacturing had moved overseas. But Forman has come roaring back to life, thanks to that same overseas manufacturing. His job is to rescue millions of dollars’ worth of imported clothing by fixing the manufacturing botches. (The Journal article is behind a paywall but here’s the same article reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

But the most interesting example in the article wasn’t about a mistake exactly; it had to do with a load of 17,000 Chinese-made denim pants that were confiscated in Long Beach by U.S. Customs. Why? Their zipper tabs were imprinted with “YKK,” the Japanese company who made the zipper on the very pair of pants I’m wearing (and, probably, yours). But they were counterfeit zippers. I am not sure why someone would bother to counterfeit a zipper. (Have you ever bought a pair of pants because of its brand of zipper? Now that I think of it, how do I know that my YKK zipper is real?)

So Barry Forman was called in to fix the problem. He did this by putting fifteen employees to work with hand drills, grinding off the fake “YKK” mark on each zipper. It took them five days. I am curious how much this intervention raised the price on this lot of denim pants. The economics of commercial piracy are vast and fascinating; I was talking to a lawyer friend not long ago who assured me that a significant fraction of the toiletries and household products I buy every day are fake.