The hook-and-loop closure has been voted one of the best inventions of the twenty-first century by scientists. “Hooked” to numerous articles of our day-to-day life, hook-and-loop fasteners are used to secure footwear and clothing as well as to anchor equipment on NASA’s space shuttles and simplify storage and fastening solutions.
The hook-and-loop closure was conceived in 1948 by the Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral who loved two things—inventing and the great outdoors; he went on to become an engineer. Confident that Mother Nature was the best engineer of all, George de Mestral was both intrigued and annoyed by the burrs that stuck to his wool hunting pants and his dog’s fur. Determined to rid himself of the annoying and tedious task of their removal from clothing and fur, George de Mestral examined the burrs under a microscope. He discovered that each burr consisted of hundreds of tiny hooks that grabbed into the threads of fabric and animal fur. Convinced that nature had created something that could simplify fastening solutions, he discussed his idea of a hook-and-loop fastener that could compete with the zipper with textile experts in Lyon, France.
The first hook-and-loop closure was initially produced on a small handloom. The potential for mass production was not realized until de Mestral accidentally discovered that by sewing nylon under an infrared light, loops which were virtually indestructible could be formed in the same interlocking fashion as his cotton system.
In 1951 George de Mestral applied for a patent for this hook-and-loop invention in Switzerland and received additional patents in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, Holland, Belgium, France, Canada, and the United States. Thus, de Mestral’s company, Velcro S.A., was born.
The name Velcro is derived from the French words “velour” (velvet), and “crochet” (hook). Although the patent expired in 1979, Velcro is a registered trademark of Velcro USA and the company is the largest manufacturer of apparel hook-and-loop fasteners. Over 251 trademark registrations are held in more than 100 countries. The 3M Company is its only significant competition in adhesive-back hook-and-loop closures. The 3M Company focuses on adhesive backed products instead of sew on, and therefore is not geared to the apparel industry. Hook-and-loop closures are integral components of outerwear garments, active sportswear, knee and elbow pads, as well as sports helmets. The elderly and handicapped greatly benefit from its versatility. The children’s wear industry makes significant use of hook-and-loop closures in many aspects of apparel. Because of its child-friendly application, these closures are also used on a variety of notebooks, backpacks, and footwear.
The infant and newborn segment of the children’s wear market takes full advantage of the benefits of hook-and-loop closures as the fastener of choice on diapers. Nike, who began the use of the Velcro brand fastener on infant sneakers in the late 1970s, continues in the twenty-first century with a sneaker that can be placed on the baby’s foot with one hand. Children often wear shoes with Velcro brand fasteners before they learn to tie their shoes. Velcro brand products are manufactured in Canada, China, Mexico, Spain, and the United States.
Tsuruoka, Doug. “Stick to the Fine Points.” Investor’s Business Daily (14 July 2003): A4.