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More than a zipper: How Elvin Zung drives branding through details

Design, PeopleDanielle Samaniego, Gap Inc. Blogger5 Comments

Design is in the details. And it takes obsession with detail to breathe life into that irresistible piece of clothing. These are the people behind the scenes at Gap Inc. — the dedicated professionals who push themselves every day to create customer experiences that resonate. Get to know these heroes of their craft.

Your zippers and buttons are the last items you touch when getting dressed for the day and, most likely, are given very little thought.

But that's where Elvin Zung rests his thoughts. He believes a piece of clothing's quality starts and ends with its zippers, tags and threads.

The Senior Director of Strategic Sourcing for Trims believes subtle specifications can often be overlooked but, when nurtured, elevate individual pieces and craft a brand identity.

Along with a five-person team, Elvin is responsible for platforming trim — which includes zippers, threads, labels, pockets, metal hardware, buttons and lining — across Gap Inc.'s brands for consistency and speed, as well as overall quality. The crux of the team's work is to simplify and demystify the selection of trims for Gap Inc.'s brands.

Never underestimate the branding power of that seemingly superfluous metal rivet or pocket lining, Elvin cautions. “It's just a zipper, but I think you can actually make a difference and drive consistency across the board," he said.

“If you look at zippers [from the past] on our denim and woven bottoms, there was a fairly wide range of specifications, and in many ways it was a missed opportunity to create a brand identity," Elvin said.

Elvin and his team worked with designers, merchants and production from Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta to align their zippers, as they start to build a foundation to ultimately drive branding through a subtle hallmark — “a differentiator."

But visual aesthetic isn't the only factor that goes into zipper design: Durability is also key in establishing brand quality. “Zippers are very critical because of the hard washes in denim," Elvin said. “So we use certain finishes such as antique brass, because they're strong enough to perform on those cycles while delivering the aesthetic needed for our product."

This obsession with performance and durability translates to thread, fabric, and other details as well.

“With denim, we use a cotton-wrap poly core thread because that's going to give that washed-down appearance — versus a performance garment that is very tight to the body and requires a higher level of strength because you know it's going to be stretching," Elvin said.

Before Elvin's team existed, decisions about trim were usually made by vendors. Today, the team is constantly honing a seamless process that puts the decision-making power in the hands of the experts: designers and merchants. The Trim team enables those experts to make smarter decisions and provides key knowledge into the supplier management operations.

If the design is in the details, then Elvin and his team are the gatekeepers. “We're bringing the market intelligence to the table," Elvin said. “I've been loving [the work], because it forces you to just go deep into the product. And you feel like you're right in the middle of product creation and helping [designers and merchants] make better decisions."

Reaching for a small panel of various threads, Elvin strums through the strings as he speaks. “Quality shouldn't just be about the most expensive, but more about why you need a specific thread. Do you need the thread to be strong because it's going to be in a performance garment for Athleta or GapFit or Old Navy Active? Or do you need a thread for a pair of jeans where you need the washed-down appearance to achieve the desired aesthetics?" Elvin said. “I think there's an opportunity to look at things within those parameters and potentially redefine quality to that degree."

Product quality — and pride in that quality — is what Elvin and the rest of Gap Inc.'s Trim team, designers and merchants are striving for.

“People often say they want to be close to product because you can see, feel, and touch the outcome of the work that you do," he said. “When I first came here, my view was 'They're making jeans and T-shirts.' But now it's more about helping to establish that emotional connection between our product and our customers."

“I'm a customer myself. I know what it means when I buy a piece of garment that I want to keep for a long time because I just connect with it emotionally and the way it makes me feel," he said. “I don't know how many jobs there are that allow you to impact people in such a powerful way."