I think in all likelihood one of the more unsung inventions in modern history is the zipper. I mean think about this for a moment, who doesn’t use a zipper in some way in everyday life?
Assuming you’re not one William Jefferson Clinton, most of us don’t spend a lot of time looking at various zippers. However, those with an eye for detail may have noticed more than one of their zippers says “YKK” on it.
According to Today I Found Out, 90 percent of the world’s zippers have those three mysterious letters on them. If you’ve noticed them, perhaps you thought YKK was a manufacturing code, or maybe a ubiquitous manufacturer, or even some sort of symbol of a Pynchon-esque crypto-conspiracy to control the world’s zipper supply.
As much as I wish it were the last one (and personally, I think that would be a great plot device for “Gravity’s Rainbow 2: Electric Boogaloo”), those who guessed door number two are actually correct.
Much like KFC, the letters in YKK haven’t actually stood for anything since 1994 — but before then, they denoted Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha, a Japanese manufacturing concern whose most visible product is zippers.
In 1934, Tadao Yoshida started the firm, which was initially called San-es Shokai, in Tokyo. After World War II, Yoshida would register the YKK trademark and acquire a machine from the United States to automate the zipper-making process. Thus began the path to world zipper domination.
“In practice, this boiled down to Yoshida striving to produce ever-higher quality with ever-lower costs,” Slate wrote back in 2012. “It seems intuitive, but it’s far from easy to do. And in the end, the secret to YKK’s success is equally uncomplicated but equally impressive: YKK makes incredibly dependable zippers, ships them on time without fail, offers a wide range of colors, materials, and styles, and never gets badly undercut on price. The feeling in the apparel industry is that you can’t go wrong with YKK.”
And, like other products that have been around for decades, zippers can be prone to failure; even though the zipper debuted in 1893, its reliability hasn’t been entirely perfected in the intervening century.