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.
If a designer does bother to invest in quality components, that’s a tried-and-true sign that the overall product is better than the competition.
Zippers are a classic example when looking at backpacks, clothing, and similar gear. 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.
My dad used to do some work for YKK back in the ‘90s, so I wanted to dig deeper into why they’re the king and what makes their zippers so associated with quality.
YKK is short for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha, founded by Tadao Yoshida in 1934. Today, the YKK Group makes roughly half of the world’s zippers.
Yoshida didn’t invent the zipper — the concept predated YKK by nearly a century and the first zipper manufacturer was Talon Zipper, founded in 1893. Yoshida copied Talon’s design and began making his own zippers out of Tokyo until it was firebombed at the end of World War II.
After the war, Yoshida moved back to his hometown of Kurobe and started over, and that’s when YKK’s greatness began. Over the following decades, YKK grew from being an imitator to an innovator, creating the world’s first nylon zipper, polyester zipper, concealed zipper, and the world’s smallest zipper. YKK zippers were used in the spacesuits that went to the moon in 1969.
How did Yoshida rebuild from nothing to build the greatest zipper producer in the world?
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 benefits 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.
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 disconnects while you’re out on a cold day? iHood’s heated jacket will never let that happen to you.
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.
After being used for decades, 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.