My goal to learn something new every day
I was waiting at the subway station today when I saw two of my students. Both quite new to the academy. One male, and one female, in their early twenties. He’s just graduated high school and is about to start university. She’s about to start her sophomore year. The train arrives and I get on, followed by my two students. It’s crowded so there’s nowhere to sit. Just then, another of my students comes up from behind, turns and sees me. She’s older, around 28 and a kindergarten teacher. She’s very bubbly and says “hi”. “Oh, hi” I say back, and then look to my two other students, back to the older student, they look at each other. It looks like they’ve not met before. “Do you guys know each other?” I ask. “umm, no” they say. Anyone experienced in Korean etiquette will know that this has the potential for akwardness. “You’re all centre students” I tell them. Immediate relief across all of their faces. After a couple of ‘hi’s in English, they switch into Korean, and cue the obligatory questions: how old are you, how long have you studied at the centre, where do you study and so on. And away they natter in Korean, occasionally switching to English to ask me a question, perhaps not aware that I have a pretty good understanding of what they’re going on about.
While the newly acquainted students continue chatting, getting to know each other, I notice the male student’s zip on his jacket. It’s a standard zip, but it has three little letters on: YKK. I’ve seen them before, many times in fact. I’ve seen them, but perhaps not noticed them—not considered what they mean. It’s not the brand because they appear on many different zips, so just what do they mean?
Turns out I’m not the only person to have such a query.
YKK stands for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushiki Gaisha, a Japanese company. This translates into English as “Yoshida Manufacturing Shareholding Company”, which essentially is pretty much saying “Yoshida Manufacturing Limited”. Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushiki Gaisha is a fastening manufacturing company that was set up in 1934. Today, it is the world’s largest zip manufacturer. According to this article from slate.com, the company makes around half of all the zippers on Earth, and produces 7 billion of them each year!
The company was founded by Tadao Yoshida, who began by making his own machines because he was not satisfied with the ones available at the time. Today, the company has factories in 71 different countries and these factories take care of the whole process of manufacturing the zips rather than subcontracting certain aspects of the process to other businesses. The LA Times did a piece on the company back in 1998, which details the process at one the factories in the US, and which you can read about here.
The YKK zip is now known as one of the best in the world and is trusted by clothes designers around the world. As Trina Turk, a sportswear designer says in the slate.com article: “A zipper will never make a garment, but it can break a garment.”