What the hell is YKK?

Have you ever noticed that most of your zippers are stamped with YKK? What does that mean? Most people have no idea what the hell YKK is, or why it’s on 75% of the zippers they own. Since it isn’t tied to one particular brand, people are often confused about what it might mean. Could YKK be a type of zipper? A quality mark? A material or process?

In reality, none of these could be further from the truth. YKK is actually a brand, but don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. YKK isn’t a company to be in the public eye. They only sell zippers to fashion designers and manufacturers, and they don’t want to take the spotlight away from the designs that incorporate them. Yet it is likely the most successful brand in the entire fashion industry.

How the YKK zipper was born

In 1934, a young Tokyo inventor by the name of Tadao Yoshida developed his own customized zipper machines. He wasn’t satisfied with the existing production methods. He felt the quality was inadequate and inconsistent. Even with his own unique zipper machines, the completed zippers themselves varied too much with the quality of the materials being used to make them.

What is the best way to ensure consistency? We’ve all said it: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That is exactly what Tadao did when he launched Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha (YKK), which loosely translates to “Yoshida Company Limited.”) Over the next 40 years, YKK brought every aspect of zipper manufacture in-house. From melting their own brass to manufacturing their own shipping containers, YKK handles everything from start to finish to guarantee a consistent level of excellence.

The unique business approach that created one of the most successful brands in history

What YKK did with something seemingly simple like zippers is arguably one of the most successful brand stories in history, regardless of industry. The fact that they are not a household name does not diminish in any way the vastness of their success. Many fashion designers refuse to work with any other zipper supplier. Few brands are used as widely, even on an industry rather than consumer level.

So how did they get here? Yoshida had a business management approach he called, “The Cycle of Goodness.” Essentially, he believed that no one can be successful if they don’t directly benefit others. In the course of doing his best to benefit his employees, customers, and industry, he was able to establish some of the most sustainable and efficient production practices that led naturally to a higher quality zipper produced at a significantly lower cost.

Why you should look for the YKK on zippers from clothing, handbags, and accessories

Everyone should be concerned about having reliable zippers. Imagine your embarrassment if your zipper breaks while you are in the work restroom. The harried chaos that ensues when a zipper breaks and a bag empties into a crowded sidewalk or, worse, a busy street. The open flaps of your jacket flapping annoyingly while the harsh wind bites into your sides because the zipper broke on your way home on a crisp fall or winter day.

It is for all of these reasons that the top designers only use YKK zippers. Even though they are not available for purchase by the average consumer, leather workers and designers able to order from industry suppliers do have access to these higher quality zippers and the machines that can make them.