Friday Grab Bag: NOKO Jeans go on sale; Korea Today turns 60

UPDATE 2: NOKO Jeans are on sale here and here.

UPDATE : It looks like the NOKO Jeans launch did not go off as expected. The Swedish department store in which the jenas were to go on sale has pulled the plug on NOKO’s retail space at the last minute.  According to the AFP (Via Singapore’s Straits Times):

A SWEDISH department store on Saturday cancelled what was to be the sale of the ‘first ever’ brand of jeans made in North Korea, the Swedish company behind the communist-made dark denims said.

‘Apparently PUB has censored our exhibition/store by shutting it down and ‘confiscating’ the jeans because of the ‘working conditions in North Korea’,’ Jakob Ohlsson of company Noko Jeans told AFP in an email. ‘At first i thought it was a joke but everything has been removed from the store,’ he added.

Mr Ohlsson, along with Jacob Aastroem and Tor Rauden Kaellstigen – all under the age of 25 and with no previous experience in business or fashion – started Noko Jeans in mid-2007, prompted by a desire to enter in contact with isolationist North Korea.

Their designer jeans were to be sold starting on Saturday at Aplace, a boutique that is a tenant of the trendy PUB department store in central Stockholm. ‘A half-hour before opening, we got a call from the head of the department store and he explained to me… that PUB cannot sell the Noko Jeans,’ Kalle Tollmar, the founder and CEO of Aplace told AFP.

‘The explanation I got was that (the store’s management) had taken the decision… that PUB is not the right place, or platform, for this kind of political discussion,’ he said, confirming his store was hoping to continue distribution of the controversial duds at another location.

The Noko sales space at PUB was deserted on Saturday, the jeans removed and and surrounding photo exhibition taken down by the department store’s security. ‘They have it in a locked room at PUB but we have been promised to get everything back on Monday, it’s only for security reasons, they don’t want us to sell the jeans,’ Ms Tollmar said. — AFP

According to the AP:

A Stockholm department store says it won’t carry a new line of North Korean-made designer jeans because it doesn’t want ties to the isolated communist nation.

PUB store spokesman Rene Stephansen says it is “a political issue that PUB doesn’t want to be associated with.”

The Noko Jeans line is the brainchild of three Swedish entrepreneurs who hoped to help break North Korea’s isolation through increased trade with the West.

A spokesman for the retail space where Noko Jeans was selling its product says the jeans were taken off shelves early Saturday.

Noko Jeans spokesman Jacob Astrom says he regrets the decision is looking for a new shop location. The jeans will be available online.

The NOKO web page says that the jeans will be available on Monday, but in Sweden, Monday has nearly come and gone and the jeans are still not for sale on the web.

ORIGINAL POST: NOKO Jeans go on sale today.  According to Reuters:

Designer jeans labeled “Made in North Korea” will go on sale this Friday at a trendy department store in the Swedish capital, marking a first foray into Western fashion for the reclusive communist state.

The jeans, marketed under the “Noko” brand, carry a price tag of 1,500 Swedish crowns ($215) and will share shelf space at Stockholm’s PUB store with brands such as Guess and Levi’s.

Noko’s founders told Reuters they had spent over a year trying to gain access to factory operators in North Korea, and struggled with poor communications and an unfamiliar approach to doing business once inside the country.

“There is a political gap, there is a mental gap, and there is an economic gap,” said Jacob Astrom, one of three Swedish advertising executives behind the project. “All contacts with the country are difficult and remain so to this day.”

The idea for the project was born out of curiosity for North Korea, which has grown increasingly isolated in recent years under Western criticism of its human rights record and nuclear ambitions.

“The reason we did this was to come closer to a country that was very difficult to get into contact with,” Astrom said.

North Korea, a country better known for its reclusive nature than fashionable clothes, rarely allows outsiders within its borders and has virtually no trade or diplomatic relations with most Western countries. Sweden, one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, is an exception.

But the process of agreeing a deal to produce just 1,100 pairs of jeans — the first ever produced by the country, according to the founders — often proved baffling. E-mails vanished into a void and communications were strained.

At one point they were asked to bring a zinc smelting oven into the country, and a trade representative once asked them to help him find a pirated version of the computer program Adobe Acrobat so he could read files they were sending him.

“Everyone is a manager. Even our chauffeur was some sort of manager,” said founder Jakob Ohlsson, adding that North Korean titles were often confusing.

After being turned down by North Korea’s largest textile company, the group managed to secure a manufacturing deal with its largest mining company, Trade 4, which also happens to run a small textile operations on its site.

“This is often the way it works in North Korea,” said Ohlsson. “Companies seldom specialize and therefore often manage several operations that differ completely from one another.”

During the summer, the trio traveled to the factory in North Korea to oversee the production process and ensure that workers there were treated according to Noko’s guidelines.

“We were forced to operate by micro-management,” Ohlsson said, referring to his experience on the factory floor.

Fashionable novelty seekers can order Noko jeans from the company’s website after December 4, but you are not likely to see a pair on the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, anytime soon.

Socialist dress code forbids them.

According to the BBC:

Mr Ohlsson explained black denim was chosen because North Koreans “usually associate blue jeans with America. That’s why it’s a little taboo”.

But the high ticket price for the jeans is not simply aimed at finding an exclusive niche in the market.

Mr Ohlsson admitted: “The reason they are so expensive is that we didn’t have any experience in fashion, trading, or anything like that.”

Read previous NOKO Jeans posts here, here, here and here.

Korea Today Turns 60.  According to Korea Today:

korea-today.jpgDecember 4 this year marks the 60th founding anniversary of The Foreign Language Magazines, DPRK.

On the occasion we extend heartfelt gratitude to our readers.

We began to publish our journal, titled New Korea, in January 1950, hoping to help the readers understand how the Koreans had lived before they got free from the Japanese colonial rule and engaged in building a sovereign independent state, what they were aspiring after and what course they would take in the future.

Later the title changed to Korea Today.

The monthly magazine has so far carried policies the Workers’ Party of Korea set forth in each stage of socialist construction, achievements the Korean people made in their implementation, independent and creative life of the working masses and their happiness as well as the history, geography and culture of Korea.

Also introduced are the struggle of the Koreans and other progressive people for reunifying the nation that has been divided into the north and the south for over 60 years and building a new independent world—in various styles and methods.

Published in Russian alone in the initial years, the monthly is now available in English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Arabic, too.

You can get access to Korea Today on the Naenara site.

We’ll do our best to help you know the realities of Korea where building of a thriving nation is on its height, the efforts of the Korean people for national reunification and the struggle of Koreans and other progressive people around the world for a new, free and peaceful world.

It is interesting that Korea Today would remind everyone that their first publications were in Russian and featured Pyongyang’s  Liberation Tower (located here) on the cover.  It removes all doubt about who was actually in control at the time (i.e. not Kim Il Sung). (Новая Корея=New Korea).

Korea Today is full of all sorts of interesting and useless tid-bits on the DPRK–such as this.

Korea Today, Korea, and Kumsukangsan are all published by the Pyongyang Foreign Languages Printing House (also turning 60) located here.

The Soviet equivalent of Korea Today, named Soviet Russia Today, published a piece about the early days of the DPRK by American communist Ana Louise Strong, who was one of the first Americans allowed into the country.  Learn more here.


10 Responses to “Friday Grab Bag: NOKO Jeans go on sale; Korea Today turns 60”

  1. John Kim says:

    Congrats to these smart advertising guys: 3 young Swedes buy 1100 jeans in Pyongyang, create the NOKO jeans brand and an attractive story around it, and hey presto, are on Reuters, BBC etc. Wow, I could never have imagined it’s that simple to achieve such an international media hype with a few trousers, but anything coming out of North Korea seems somehow to be newsworthy.

  2. Can’t wait to get myself a new pair of Noko’s.

  3. Neil says:

    I wonder if they will send Kim Jong Il a pair.

  4. Mårten says:

    I’ll definitely go to PUB (the department store where NOKO Jeans are sold) tomorrow and get me a pair of those jeans, just like Lenin did in 1917, although he bought a suit.

  5. Dody says:

    I wonder if the Noko Jeans used the legendary vinalon for the material???

  6. NKObserver says:

    I am curious if the Noko jean are made of vinalon.

  7. Werner says:

    European newspapers report today that the sale of NOKO jeans in a certain department store in Sweden was stopped, even before the sale started and the space rented by Nokojeans in the department store was emptied … the reason: citing labour conditions in NK …?

    Also a marketing gag ?
    So much fuzz about 1000 jeans ?

  8. Kalle says:

    You can find the jeans at

    Best regards,

    Kalle from Aplace