Alicia Werner had a going business making slipcovers and drapes when she got a phone call that changed the course of her life. The caller had sold 700 pillows to a customer and had promised delivery in two weeks. The woman who sewed for him had quit suddenly leaving him in a desperate spot.
“Sure, I can help you out,” Werner said. At the time she had 19 employees and was confident she could complete the task on time. What she didn’t know was that it was nearly impossible to buy the 700 black zippers she needed. 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 finally found a company who would sell to her, but she had to drive to Anaheim, Calif., to retrieve the zippers in time to get the job done. She began to think about zippers. She spoke to her son who was in Hong Kong at the time and he began to do some research. She ended up going there and learning about sources for zippers in that part of the world.
She began stocking zippers, developing relationships with businesses who needed them and before she knew it, she was selling all kinds of zippers large and small to the government, to workrooms and to stores and manufacturers all around the world. She stocks zippers in five different weights and three invisible styles for everyone from upholstery makers to bridal gown seamstresses. She offers a huge range of sizes and 91 different colors.
Now The Zipper Lady sells zippers that go into backpacks and jackets, zippers specially engineered to be used outdoors, zippers for boots and crystal zippers for wedding gowns, separating zippers and invisible zippers used for movie actors in Marvel Comic Book movies.
The biggest zippers she ever sold were used for a clown’s shoes and also to open and close a large tent to protect fruit in an organic orchard. These zippers measure 15 millimeters across and dwarf the kind used to close a pair of pants.
Werner grew up as part of the fifth generation of settlers in the San Luis Valley. Her great grandmother walked from Boston to a spot between Saguache and Moffit in the early years of the 20th century. When she was ready for college, Werner sought out the bright lights of Fort Collins. At Colorado State University she earned a degree in textiles, then headed east to Parsons School of Design in New York where she worked in bridal manufacturing after graduation. She eventually returned to CSU for an MFA in weaving. Not yet finished with school, returned to her agricultural roots to study international farm marketing at California Polytechnic Institute — a degree she hasn’t yet put to use.
For three years she designed furniture in Milan, Italy where she lived with her husband and son. After her husband’s death, when she was 38 and pregnant with her second son, she moved to Vail and opened a drapery and slipcover business there which flourished for many years until she sold it to her employees.
Werner considers Fort Collins home. It is the place where she established her zipper business in 1994. “I always thought I’d be a sculptor or painter,” she said. But zippers got in the way.
Instead she spends her days, along with five employees, researching, purchasing, dyeing when necessary, packaging and shipping zippers all over the world. The Zipper Lady work site and warehouse off Link Lane in east Fort Collins is packed with zippers on big spools, in colorful piles, of every imaginable shape and size, ready to make their way into the world to hold things together and to allow them to come apart as needed.
Werner says none of her business is local, but there’s no question that her zippers have found their way into the wardrobes and slipcovers, and maybe even the fancy cowboy boots, of the citizens of Northern Colorado. There’s a very good chance that there are more zippers in Larimer County than there are in any other spot in Colorado.