One zip to rule them all: After years of dominance, YKK now faces competition

YKK has dominated the zipper market for decades, but as new companies flood into the more affordable markets, the company is planning on a few adjustments.


March 20, 2019

Trivia hour… 

Q: Without looking, what brand is the zipper on your pants? 

A: Probably Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha, better known as “YKK.” 

That’s because the Japanese giant makes almost half the zippers on earth — more than 7B a year.

But, its Chinese challenger, SBS — which has established itself as the go-to for affordably priced zippers to mass-market brands like Adidas — has further encroached on YKK’s top-tier turf in the last decade.

SBS isn’t the only Chinese company with skin in the (zipper) game

The zipper biz has slowly evolved from local brands to a dominant multinational YKK… and now the company has a target on its back. 

There are a dozen or so smaller, 3-letter Chinese firms (YCC, YQQ…) that compete in the affordable tier markets. 

SBS — founded in ’84 — leads the pack in output, patents, and export share (about 25%). Unlike the other companies, it also doesn’t mince words when it comes to its aspirations of dethroning YKK.

Mundanity insanity

As unsexy as the zipper biz seems, the battle between the two powerhouses has become like the Red Sox and Yankees… of zippers.

With $10B in annual revenue and a 40% global market share, YKK is still ahead in the race, but, as the company struggles to match SBS’s output, the competition is bound to continue.

SBS, which has garnered attention for selling higher quality metal at more affordable prices, has started to imitate YKK’s core strategies of reach, integration (YKK controls every part of its manufacturing process), and innovation by assembling in-house R&D teams.

All zips point to duopoly

YKK, which has long been exclusive to higher-end markets, decided to fight fire with fire as it plans to zip itself into the bargain market to go after SBS’ — and other competitors’ — bottom lines.

YKK’s one-time monopoly is showing signs of becoming a global duopoly as SBS continues to partner with higher-profile luxury brands. But it’s going to take SBS a long time to trounce YKK’s big money advantages.

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