Only curiosity could have brought you here – you want to know what those three little letters that are on every zipper you own mean. The simplest explanation is that they are the branding of the YKK company. And you will get a much more detailed explanation in the rest of this guide.
If you want to know everything about YKK zippers – who they are, why they are everywhere and why they have the monopoly on the market, you’re definitely in the right place! We’ll walk you through the history of the company, their influence on the zipper market and some of their fiercest competitors in this guide to YKK zippers!
A common misconception is that YKK is synonymous with zippers – it’s not. There are loads of other zipper manufacturers, but they are heavily overshadowed by the YKK zipper company. And the reason for that is because YKK zippers are the best – plain and simple.
The YKK group was founded back in 1934, which gave them plenty of time to establish their clear dominance in the zipper market. Over the years, they’ve continued to prove the quality and reliability of their products, which is how they manage to retain the monopoly on zippers even today.
But that does not mean that they are the only zipper manufacturer out there – they’re not. I’ll talk you through some of their largest competitors a bit later; for now, it’s enough to say that not all zippers are YKK, and not everything YKK manufactures is zipper related.
YKK stands for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushiki gaisha – it’s Japanese for Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation. The ‘Y’ in YKK simply stands for the surname of the company’s founder – Tadao Yoshida.
Kabushiki gaisha refers to the kind of company the YKK group is. Under the Companies Act of Japan, KK are classic joint-stock companies, in which the shareholders are able to buy and sell their stock in a company.
But this is not a public company – YKK is privately owned, so you can’t just go out and buy their stocks. That’s why they don’t have a trading symbol, and why an entirely different company name shows up when you search YKK stocks online.
The YKK Group is a Japanese corporation that manufactures zippers, among other things. The entire group is actually an umbrella corporation for several other companies – YKK Fastening is just the most famous one.
YKK group also manufactures architectural products, plastic hardware, other fastening products, and even industrial machinery. But our focus in this guide will remain on their zippers!
The company was founded in 1934 in Tokyo, under the name San-es Shokai – that’s right, they weren’t always the world-famous YKK! In fact, they continued operating under their initial name until 1938, when the company was renamed to YKK. After that, there weren’t any major events in the company history until 1942, due to WWII.
In 1942 the company was reorganized as a limited corporation, and in 1946 the YKK trademark was registered. And that’s actually one of the most interesting facts, considering that nowadays companies will register trademarks even before they come up with products they can sell under the registered name!
Anyway, in 1955 YKK opened their second manufacturing plant in Kurobe, Toyama, which marks the beginnings of their worldwide expansion. November of 1959 sees the opening of their first overseas plant in New Zealand, and in the following decades the company also expanded to Canada, Kagawa and Swaziland.
But how did they go from a small Japanese company to a zipper magnate in such a short time -and yes, a few decades is a short time in any company history. Well, 1966 was a crucial year for the company, and it preceded many of their other worldwide expansions. In that year, the company invented the YZip – and extra durable high-quality zipper for jeans. And that same decade, jeans manufactured worldwide were designed to have zippers in the front. Plus, it was the sixties – men, women and children were wearing jeans, and people liked having the zippers on the front.
After the YZip was such a huge hit, the invention of a YZip machine followed. This machine had the ability to include the YZip into the stitching process of jeans automatically, which further increased zipper sales, especially in the United States. Only after that did the YKK company start expanding to Canada and other countries all over the world.
Today, YKK company has 109 different facilities in 71 countries worldwide. They employ more than 40,000 people and boast a yearly revenue of over $6 billion. But, keep in mind that that encompasses every branch of the company – the manufacturing of store fronts, sunshades, windows etc. – and not just the high-quality zippers.
I’ve already told you that YKK doesn’t make just zippers – they also manufacture all sorts of other fastening products. This includes plastic buckles, D-rings, strap adjusters, snap buttons, washers, rivets and so many other items that I can’t possibly list them all. I mean I could, but it would bore both you and me to death.
Anyway, that’s another reason why the company is so huge – they are able to offer in-house production of pretty much any fastening product a client could need. And they’re able to sell them machines that will allow them to automatically attach this to items they’re creating, making their manufacturing processes a lot more efficient.
This isn’t something the smaller zipper manufacturers – or even the bigger ones like SBS – can compete with. And that’s why some of the largest brands in the industry use YKK products more than half the time.
One of the main reasons why YKK is such a big name in the zipper game is the sheer abundance of the different kinds of zippers they manufacture. Coil zippers, metal zippers, custom sliders – you name it, they make it.
They manufacture zippers from various different materials in pretty much every color under the rainbow. And with so much variety of the shape of the pullers that it can make your head spin.
By having so many different options in their catalogue, they are able to satisfy the needs of numerous different clients. That is why you can find a YKK zipper in pretty much any store, from Nike to Gucci.
YKK is also one of the few zipper companies that is able to manufacture an entirely waterproof zipper that will actually perform as well as you need them to. This is something brands can’t get from cheap companies – it costs a lot of money to design and manufacture these zippers, and that’s why items with waterproof zippers tend to have pretty high price tags on them.
There is a myriad of zipper manufacturers in the world, but most companies are so small that they don’t even pose a threat to YKK. They’re kind of like the smartphone manufacturers you’ve never heard of, and YKK is Apple. Well, SBS is Samsung in this scenario – a fast-growing company that is YKK’s largest competitor.
SBS is a fairly new company; they were founded in 1984 in China. And the reason why they managed to pull ahead as YKK’s biggest competitor is the Chinese market – YKK hadn’t expanded there until the 90s. SBS is still ahead in the vast Chinese market, but YKK is investing heavily into development of new technologies, which allows them to be ahead in the overall game.
The reason why YKK manages to be ahead in the bigger picture is because of the other branches of the umbrella corporation. They don’t just make zippers – they also manufacture the machines that allow them to produce the best zippers in the market. All of their research and development is in-house, which is why they are winning in the zipper wars.
With the influence of high-end brands only getting stronger in the past decades, zipper companies like YKK and SBS are investing conspicuous sums of money into developing technologies that will allow them to collaborate with renown designers. SBS managed to score Giorgio Armani as a client, while Xiao Li, the famous Chinese designer, uses exclusively YKK zippers.
But, most of the big names like Balmain and Tom Ford are working with lesser known manufacturers, which are able to prioritize their needs – something a giant like YKK would not be able to do.
In an effort to win this battle as well, YKK has established a showroom in London, where they display some of their best and newest fasteners. This allows the company to connect directly with the average consumer, further increasing their chances of winning the overall war.
Now, deeming these events as the “zipper war” might sound a bit silly, but it is entirely appropriate considering the console and smartphone wars that are going on in this day and age. Especially when you consider the fact that the zipper market is worth some $13 billion – and YKK’s revenue accounts for nearly half of that.
The companies aren’t battling only for high-profile clients – they are also trying to score as many high street brands as clients as possible. Fast fashion is only getting bigger by the year, and zipper companies want a slice of that pie. So, it’s not really a surprise that even this particular market is incredibly competitive.
But high street brands will rarely work exclusively with one zipper manufacturer, which is why you will find a variety of different types of fasteners in items from the same brand. I own enough stuff from Zara to supply a small shop, and I had to really dig through my collection to find an item with a YKK zipper. So, why exactly is that?
The thing is, fast fashion companies need zippers that fit into the design of their items. Brands like Zara are able to have copies of runway looks in their stores in about two weeks – from designing the knock-off item to you paying for it at the counter.
Two weeks is a really short time, and if a company does not have a specific zipper shape they have in mind, they will turn to a different supplier. Fast fashion brands do not have time to wait for someone to design a new zipper puller for them, or to wait that it’s produced in the exact shade of neon pink they need. So, once they find the exact type of fastener they need, it doesn’t matter which company produces it.
This also explains why the quality of items in the same store is rarely consistent.
The main reason why YKK still manage to dominate the worldwide market is reliability. Over the decades, YKK zippers have become synonymous with toughness, durability and excellence. And as consumers, we are the ones who help the company come out on top year after year.
If you’re constantly buying stuff with YKK zippers because you know that they will last a long time, you’re directly responsible for their enormous success. And so am I – every item that has a YKK zipper has an advantage whenever I’m in a dilemma about purchasing something.
The sole reason for that is my personal experience – I’ve never had a complaint about the YKK zippers on my clothes, backpacks and suitcases. Which can’t be said about my experience with various other types of zippers – throughout my life I’ve broken countless pullers, dealt with numerous crooked zipper teeth and stuck zipper heads. But none of them were YKK.
I’m guessing that you’ve head a very similar experience, and that that was exactly what made you wonder who the hell YKK was. Well, I hope I’ve answered all the questions you had about the company – if there’s something else you want to know, just let me know in the comments!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.