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What is a YKK Zipper and Why do We Use It?


“We obsess over the finest of details in our products. Everything from how it’s stitched, to the material and the zippers…There’s no way it leaves without being perfect.”


A ‘pro tip’ for evaluating the quality of a piece of gear is to look at the small details, such as zippers and stitching. Cheap-minded manufacturers will skimp on those details because most people just don’t notice, and even a cheap component will often last past a basic warranty period, so it’s an easy way to increase profits without losing sales or returns.

One of the minor details that really matter in every heated jacket or vest is the zipper. You’ll see the signs of a cheap zipper when the pull tab snaps off after a bit of use and the zipper will eventually come off track. That’s why we use the best zipper in SAILWIND clothing styles from heated vests to heated hoodies.

And although there are a few other fine zipper brands out there, the king is YKK Group — to the point that the first thing some gear reviewers look for is the “YKK” branding on the zipper pull tab. If you want to know everything about YKK zippers – who they are, why they are everywhere, and why they have a monopoly on the market, you’re definitely in the right place! We’ll walk you through the history of the company, its influence on the zipper market, and some of its fiercest competitors in this guide to YKK zippers!

YKK ZIppers

We Care About The Details

Zippers are a classic example when looking at clothing, backpacks, and similar gear. There’s no way the products leave the door without being perfect.

What Is YKK?

The YKK Group (YKKグループ, Waikeikei Gurūpu) is a Japanese group of manufacturing companies. As the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, YKK Group is most known for making zippers. It also manufactures other fastening products, architectural products, plastic hardware, and industrial machinery. With its advanced technology, stable raw materials, and standardized management, YKK still enjoys a global reputation for its irreplaceable quality.

YKK zippers were used in the spacesuits worn during the first human exploration of the moon in 1969.

Fun Fact: YKK zippers were used in the spacesuits worn during the first human exploration of the moon in 1969.

YKK history

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’s 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’s history? Well, 1966 was a crucial year for the company, and it preceded many of its other worldwide expansions. In that year, the company invented the YZip – the 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 zippers on the front. 

After the YZip was such a huge hit, the invention of the 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 storefronts, sunshades, windows, etc. – and not just the high-quality zippers.

What makes YKK zippers so good?

Yoshida was inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth to create his own business philosophy, called the Cycle of Goodness. In short: no one prospers without rendering benefit to others. The Cycle of Goodness seeks to create what many of us in the United States would call a “360 win” where the company, its employees, its customers, and all of society benefit from what YKK does. While YKK avoids the media, the company takes the Cycle of Goodness so seriously that it produced a 10-issue manga series that explains it in detail. (YKK also made a zipper-themed anime.)

Many companies have some sort of lofty mission statement that flies out the window the second it gets in the way of business, but Yoshida’s own son compared him to a cult leader in his dedication to The Cycle of Goodness. (You might say Yoshida was the Steve Jobs of zippers.)

That philosophy led to an obsession with vertical integration, constant refinement, and being a good guest in the countries YKK spread to. YKK set up subsidiaries in other countries to work around tariffs and purchased most of its materials and machines from that country — with the exception of YKK’s specialty zipper-making machines, which are a closely guarded company secret.

The YKK Group has developed an unrivaled reputation for zipper quality. Fashion designer Trina Turk once told Slate:

Now we just stick with YKK. When the customer is buying $200 pants, they better have a good zipper. Because the customer will blame the maker of the whole garment even if the zipper was the part that failed.

Ororo, a company that sells heated outdoor clothing, published a post praising YKK zippers: “The zipper is tiny, but it is also so significant because a well-made zipper ensures you wear the jacket for years while a poorly-constructed zipper destroys the whole wearing experience with all sorts of problems.”

YKK zipper comparison
A YKK zipper vs. a competitor. The YKK zipper has a larger pull tab and bigger teeth.

YKK doesn’t share many technical details, but Ororo shed some light on what makes YKK zippers so good:

  • Square-tooth technology that ensures smooth, reliable zipping
  • Self-locking design that keeps the zipper from unzipping itself
  • Self-lubrication that keeps the zipper working well

Recycled Firefighter, a company that makes wallets and other gear from a recycled fire hose, also praises YKK zippers:

YKK Zippers are amazing, because they self-lubricate the more you use them. You’ll notice that other brands of zippers become sticky and gritty over time. Not with YKK…They will feel more smooth, the more you use them.

They also tout YKK’s water resistance: “YKK Zippers seal up incredibly tight when zipped up. They are also treated in such a way that they shed water quickly, and repel it from seeping through to your inside contents.”

Erika Bunker, the proprietor of the long-running DIY Style fashion sewing blog, said of YKK zippers:

So as of today, YKK is my zipper brand. They’re considered the best zipper brand in the world. And it’s the brand that most designers use. Just grab a random RTW garment of yours and look at the zipper. It will almost always be stamped “YKK”.

Reddit user ectomania said in the great r/BuyItForLife subreddit, “If you want something that can be abused for years and years and still performs like a champ, YKK is your best bet.”

YKK zipper on a Carhartt jacket

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s a pretty good indicator of the contents. In a world plagued by information overload, it’s useful to have little guideposts like this that help you make decisions.

There are other signs to look for in products. For instance, a full-tang knife will usually be better-made than a partial-tang knife. Shoes and boots with a Goodyear welt construction are usually well-made (and can be repaired by a cobbler).

What little things do you look for when evaluating a product? What are your brown M&Ms?

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” – Charles R. Swindoll

From the design to the production of every piece of heated clothing, we’ve paid attention to every detail in our products, making sure we have the best quality and functionality in the entire industry. 

Why Does Sailwind Choose YKK zippers?

Smoothness and Tightness

You can easily and smoothly zip up your heated apparel with a YKK zipper. With the square tooth technology, there are zero worries about the teeth separating when zipping up or unzipping. Can you imagine your jacket zipper getting stuck on something and disconnecting while you’re out on a cold day?  SAILWIND’s heated jacket will never let that happen to you. 

Self-locking Design 

YKK adopts the self-locking puller technology in the zippers, which makes it easy to pull and lock without slipping. This design enables you to move around and your zipper will always stay in place.

Durability

After being used for decades, the YKK zipper still keeps its excellent condition in both appearance and functionality. With self-lubrication, YKK zippers move even more smoothly the more you use them.

Beautiful Style

The surface of the zipper is beautifully plated and won’t easily fade. The fabric of the zippers is also selectively picked to match the clothing style. Various versions of YKK zippers are applied across different heated clothing for that extra pop of fashionable flair.

What may seem like “trivial” things make a huge difference in our lives, and so it goes with heated apparel. The zipper is tiny, but it is also so significant because a well-made zipper ensures you wear the jacket for years while a poorly-constructed zipper destroys the whole wearing experience with all sorts of problems. 

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