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The humble zipper is probably not something you spend much time thinking about. After all, we assume that the fasteners will work as intended and secure our clothing, bags, and accessories. But when something goes wrong with the zipper, it's often the end of the road for that garment. So it's easy to overlook just how important these little fastening mechanisms are – and where they come from.
Around half of the world's zippers, some seven billion per year, are manufactured by the YKK Group, a Japanese firm that has been in business since 1934. YKK stands for "Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha," which roughly translates to "Yoshida Manufacturing Corp.," and was named for its founder, Tadao Yoshida.
By the 1980s, YKK had become the dominant force in the zipper industry, supplanting the American company Talon Zipper and the German manufacturer Optilon. There are YKK manufacturing facilities located in over 70 countries. YKK's manufacturing facility in Macon, Georgia, is the largest zipper factory in the world. It makes over 5 million zippers every day, in over 1,500 styles and 400 colors.
Although there are plenty of other zipper manufacturers out there, YKK zippers are known for their quality and are used in a wide range of products, including high-end, designer items. An "invisible" 14-inch nylon YKK zipper costs about 32 cents. Not surprisingly, many clothing manufacturers find it worthwhile to spend a few pennies more to ensure that their garments hold up.
The lowdown on YKK zippers:
- YKK oversees the entire manufacturing process in-house, including producing the zipper-making machines, smelting brass for the metal portion of the zippers, and turning cloth, thread, and dye into zipper tapes.
- In addition to zippers and other fasteners such as snaps and buttons, YKK makes hardware, machinery, and metal building products.
- The metal-toothed "separable fastener," the forerunner of the modern zipper, was patented in 1917 by Swedish-American engineer Gideon Sundback. The onomatopoeic name "zipper" was developed by the B.F. Goodrich Co. in the 1920s, when they began incorporating zippers into rubber boots.