DUNLAP, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It's likely you've never given much thought as to who made the zipper that closed your fly this morning. That's okay, Dunlap Industries has paid attention to it for 50 years.
Okay, so maybe they aren't looking at your zipper, but the company, which is based in Dunlap, Tennessee, has been making zippers that are known around the world because of their quality. And it's one of only three zipper manufacturers left in the United States that does what it does.
"We are the last American owned zipper company in the world that's in Tennessee," said Dunlap Industries Vice President Mike Kwasnik.
Kwasnik's father started the company 50 years ago as a research project when he was a student at the University of Tennessee. He wanted to see if a rural community could support a manufacturing plant that would help sustain the community. With about 80 zipper makers in the country at the time, and with only three remaining today, it turns out Kwasnik, Sr. had a good idea that manufacturing could be supported.
But what makes Dunlap Industries so good at what it does? Its portfolio of clients is one that certainly hasn't hurt the company keep its head above the water when times were tough for the American workforce. It was only a generation ago that Dunlap Industries zipped up one of the most successful music albums ever sold when it had the exclusive rights to make a zipper for the Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" album.
"They made 25 to 30 million albums in a five to 10 year period when we worked with them," Kwasnik said.
In 1992 Dunlap was the featured zipper for Kellogg's and its mail-in order paper jackets for the US Olympic Team. Kids who sent in their box tops from Kellogg's cereal received the official jacket that was zipped shut with the Tennessee company's metal.
"It was one of the most successful promotions in the history of Kellogg's...The paper jacket. Send in your box tops, a few dollars, and you got your jacket," Kwasnik explained.
Tennis fans will probably recognize another time when Dunlap Industries made waves in the sports world. Serena Williams used Dunlap zippers when she made her entrance into the world of fashion design and showed off the warm up outfit she designed during the US Open. Millions who were watching her compete may not have realized it, but it was Dunlap that created the one-of-a-kind zipper for Williams.
And if all that still isn't enough for the rural company to brag about itself with, movie aficionados may recognize another time Dunlap's zippers were seen by millions when actor Will Smith used them for his movie "Ali". Kwasnik explained that Smith wanted an authentic, metal zipper for the sweatshirt his character, Muhammad Ali, played that was true to the era the movie was set in. Dunlap supplied Smith with several sweatshirts fitted with their zippers, at least one of which that was used in the movie and now hangs on the wall of the company's headquarters.
But Kwasnik will say there is more than just an impressive portfolio of clients that have helped the company survive and thrive. He brags on the fact that it's the employees and their commitment to making only the best zippers they can that set the company apart.
"We don't think that we're ever going to be the biggest. We can try every year to sell as much as we can and be successful, but we don't know that we're going to be the biggest. But we can be the best. We have to stand up, look you in the eye and tell you, our product is actually better than anybody else's product on the market today," he said.
Dunlap Industries is celebrating its 50th anniversary of being in business later this year. The company employs about 100 people and makes enough zippers and thread in one year to circle the earth.