Archive for the ‘Clothing’ Category

Friday Fun: Kim Jong-il’s suit

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Kim Jong-il’s signature jumper has gone on display for adoration by the masses.

Kim Jong-il’s signature pot belly seems to have vanished down the memory hole, however.

During the Kim Jong-il era it was not uncommon to see ordinary North Koreans wearing the Kim Jong-il jumper. It will be interesting to see if its use diminishes in the Kim Jong-un era.

If you visit the DPRK and want to obtain one of these fine garments before they go out of style, the tailor at Yangakdo Hotel will be happy to make one of these for you!


Consumer culture changing DPRK

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Arirang News has posted a video on the changes in consumer culture in the DPRK. It highlights just how much things have changed since the days of Kim Il-sung:


South Korean clothing gaining popularity in DPRK

Monday, May 21st, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

The popularity of South Korean culture is so high in North Korea that dramas aired on one day in the South are being made into DVDs in northeastern China the next and, by the third day, are cropping up on the fringes of North Korean markets. The North Korean people are then watching these dramas over and over again, sharing them with close friends and swapping them for others with trusted confidantes. In the process, the fashions worn by the stars of these dramas become objects of considerable envy.

It is thus inevitable that South Korean clothes would be popular among the North Korean people more generally. As a Yangkang Province source told the Daily NK recently, “Even households that are not doing that well are going out in South Korean clothes, while the demand for Chinese goods is more limited.”

In particular, the source went on, “Since the start of this year, there have been noticeably more people selling South Korean clothes in the markets, because that is what people want to buy.” Prices reflect this, the source said; for example, South Korean t-shirts sell for nearly double the price of the Chinese equivalent.

Despite the fact that selling South Korean products is deemed treasonous by the North Korean authorities, the practice continues. People refer to the illicit clothes in creative ways to avoid official censure; for instance, ‘Clothes with no label’ or ‘Clothes from the house below’. And indeed the clothes do not have labels, because they are removed in order to get through customs on the Sino-North Korean border.

According to the source, “People believe that Chinese clothes are not good enough, to the extent that they need some additional needlework before they can even be worn. South Korean clothes are the opposite; good design and good quality. Even without the label, people know whether they are seeing a South Korean or Chinese item.”

This phenomenal demand for South Korean clothes first started when North Korean defectors began to send South Korean clothes through smugglers to family. One such defector recently received orders from her family back in North Korea, namely “send as many South Korean clothes as you can because I can sell them all in the market.”

“She used to tell me not to send anything that might get her in trouble,” the source recalled. “Nothing tight-fitting, bright colored, revealing or with English letters on. But that is not the case anymore.”

▲ South Korea seizing the ‘hanbok’ market

The preference for South Korean clothes not only refers to daily wear, it also extends to North Korea’s traditional ‘hanbok’. Cha Kwang Ok, a woman of 40 who recently defected said, “Last year I went to my cousin’s house in Pyongyang and saw people in the city wearing hanbok, but they looked different to the ones they usually wear in Chosun. I thought to myself at the time, ‘Pyongyang’s economy has really developed’; they were the South Korean style hanbok.”

North Korea’s traditional hanbok jacket has a narrow ‘dongjeong’ (thin white cloth-covered paper collar) and is of a single color. It features embroidered flowers, and there are only two different styles. In contrast, South Korean hanbok, as worn by queens in the many, many historical dramas produced by South Korean broadcasters, have a wider dongjeong and are of multiple colors.

Han Yong Kwon, age 46 and originally from Pyongyang, defected to South Korea in 2011. In her estimation, “Even as late as 2010 I could not see women wearing South Korean-style hanbok in Pyongyang, so seeing them appearing now in the so-called ‘Capital of the Revolution’ is evidence that the ‘Korean Wave’ is spreading rapidly in North Korea.”

Additional evidence for the same can even be found in the Chosun Art Film Studio-published 2012 calendar, wherein there is a picture of a model wearing the same hanbok as South Korean actress Lee Young Ae wore in the 2003 drama ‘The Great Jang Geum’, showing that even North Korean state entities no longer seem to regard the colorful hanbok as particularly South Korean.

Read the full story here:
South Korea Seizing Clothing Market
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


North Koreans working in Mongolia

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Eermel Factory in Ulan Bator

Simon Ostrovsky, who produced this BBC piece on North Korean loggers in eastern Siberia, has produced a piece on North Korean workers in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator. I have posted his article in The Independent as well as a few related pieces and additional information below.

According to his article in The Independent:

Sitting astride rows of buzzing looms and distinguishable from their colleagues by the white make-up heavily applied to their faces, a few dozen North Korean women in a run-down Mongolian clothing factory are busily knitting garments to please minders from their Communist state.

They are part of a North Korean labour force tens-of-thousands strong, put in place across Asia to help the Stalinist regime meet its financial targets. And British consumers are unwittingly filling the dictatorship’s pockets through these workers, an investigation in Mongolia by The Independent and the investigative journalism project WorldView has found.

Sent in their hundreds, under an agreement between Mongolia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the North Korean workers take jobs on construction sites and in factories across this Central Asian state, where they are closely monitored by overseers from their homeland. Some of them were found to be producing goods for popular UK clothing brands such as Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM).

“They’re hard workers, they don’t complain and they get stuck in, they’re quite skilled,” said David Woods, a British textiles professional brought on as a specialist at the Eermel clothing factory in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator. North Korea has been able to transplant elements of its highly centralised state to Mongolia, where labourers keep to a tight schedule dictated by their embassy for the duration of their three-year contracts. They also have to seek permission to speak to outsiders, unlike their Mongolian co-workers.

Mr Woods showed a reporter a James Pringle-brand cashmere sweater made for EWM with a £140 price-tag already affixed, ahead of shipment to the UK, as he gave a tour of the factory. He described how its 80 female North Korean employees were housed and fed on site under a scheme managed by North Korea’s embassy, earning up to £200 per month.

Another Eermel employee told The Independent that the women’s labour fed the coffers of the North Korean regime, echoing the North Korean practice across Asia where tens of thousands of North Koreans are estimated to be employed on behalf of their government. “We are paying to Korean workers like Mongolians, the same salary,” said Bayar, Eermel’s director for exports, who like many Mongolians uses only one name. “But… we are transferring the money to the account of the [North Korean] embassy. How they split the salary, we don’t know.”

It’s a surprising move for a regime that regularly tries to keep its citizens in the dark about world events and strictly controls access to information at home. The fact that North Korea has allowed so many of its citizens to leave and glimpse the outside world reflects the severe economic situation the country has faced since the collapse of its one-time sponsor, the Soviet Union, and, more recently, international sanctions over its nuclear-weapons programme. It’s also an example of how Pyongyang has been able to adapt and continue profiting from a globalised economy while keeping most of its population at arm’s length.

In Mongolia, the practice goes back to 2004, according to leaked US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks in August. The cables, penned in 2006, describe how a representative of North Korea, who was “extremely professional in both manner and appearance”, approached a Canadian-owned gold mine to offer workers for $1.50 (90p) per day.

Another 2006 cable says: “The working and living conditions of these labourers raise the concern that they are subject to coercion, and are not free to leave their employment… the DPRK workers are monitored closely by ‘minders’ from their government, and many are believed to be subject to DPRK government pressure because of family members left behind in North Korea. The workers reportedly do not routinely receive direct and full salary.”

North Korea watchers warned that the work-abroad programmes should not be seen as a step by Pyongyang towards more openness. “As far as the regime is concerned, sending groups of people to foreign countries where they don’t speak the language and can be sequestered in barracks or factory dorms is a much safer option than granting to foreign investors in North Korea the kind of freedom and mobility they demand,” Brian Myers, a Seoul-based North Korea analyst, said.

The scheme has been hugely successful with businesses in Mongolia, which are attracted by the North Koreans’ rock-bottom labour costs and an unparalleled work ethic. One of the few countries with warm ties to the Stalinist state, Mongolia has increased its quota of North Koreans allowed to work in the country from 2,200 to 3,000 in 2011, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

The workers are even more popular in Russia, where 21,000 laboured in the first quarter of 2010 alone, according to the Russian migration agency. And many more are believed to be working in China, where the statistics are not made public.

Part of that army of workers are the seamstresses at Eermel, a hulking Soviet-era cashmere factory in the Mongolian capital that produces sweaters and other cashmere garments for the EWM retail chain and a number of lesser-known UK labels including Hush, Moray and Brodie. Clothing racks in Germany, Italy, Australia, Japan and beyond are also stocked with Eermel garments, according to Mr Woods. That means international isolation has not stopped North Korea from tapping global consumer markets.

North Korea’s culture of secrecy makes it difficult to get accurate data on the workers’ contract terms. The private interests using its labour force seem to understand that continued co-operation depends on maintaining the code of silence. After a short phone call to the North Korean embassy, Eermel factory officials refused to allow The Independent to interview any of its North Korean employees.

And at the Mongolian foreign ministry, officials were tight-lipped about how much the North Koreans’ labour is worth to Pyongyang in cash transfers, preferring to focus on benefits to the individual labourers. “For the families of the individuals who work [here] that could be helpful,” State Secretary Tsogtbaatar Damdin said. But when asked if he knew what portion of their salaries the North Korean labourers were allowed to keep, he said: “If they owe some commitments to their county we would rather not intervene in that area.”

The deal could be worth over £7m annually to North Korea if the Eermel factory workers’ wages are representative of those across Mongolia. It’s no small sum when compared to North Korea’s gross national product, estimated by the CIA to equal only $40bn in 2008. EWM, for its part, confirmed that it was supplied by the Eermel factory in Mongolia and that there were North Koreans among the workforce there, but said it was told by the factory that the North Koreans’ wages were paid directly to the workers, not the North Korean government.

The Scottish company quoted Eermel as telling it: “We do not pay any commission to the North Korean government, any North Korean Agency or anyone else. We pay the workers directly.” That stands in stark contrast to what The Independent was told by factory officials in Mongolia. But even though their contract terms are secret and are likely in violation of a raft of international agreements on workers’ rights, the practice has its supporters among North Korea watchers. They believe North Koreans working abroad will share their experiences of the outside world when they return home, perhaps in the long run leading to social and political change within the country.

“It’s every North Korean worker’s dream to be selected [to work abroad],” Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, said. “They cannot make even remotely as much inside North Korea. And on top of that, they are coming back and they bring knowledge about the outside world. They are closely supervised and they have to be very cautious, because their families back in North Korea are essentially hostages, but… this knowledge in the long run is going to change North Korean society.”

There is evidence that the North Korean workers will go to extreme lengths to avoid going home and live in perpetual fear that their minders will make them do so. “I met one man who broke his arm and was hiding it from his superiors for over a month because he was afraid he’d get sent back to North Korea if they found out about it,” said Koh Kwang Sub, a member of the South Korean business community in Ulan Bator. Mr Koh, who owns a local pharmacy, said he was able to meet workers and hand out medical supplies every few weeks when their managers were away. “It would be nice if they could work here and go back home safely, but they have no medical help and sustain a lot of work-related injuries,” he said.

The fully stocked store shelves and proliferation of mobile phones here must come as a surprise to a first-time visitor brought up to think North Korea is the world’s most advanced nation. Has the realisation led many of the workers to try defecting? “I really can’t talk about that,” said Ha Kyeong Yun, a South Korean entrepreneur who employs 30 North Korean army veterans at his farm in the northern Mongolian town of Sharin Gyol. But the answer is probably that very few, if any, have. “Their hierarchy is very rigid. They’re from the military and they maintain their rank relations.”

It’s also no coincidence that all of the male North Korean workers are at least 40-years old. All have families back home who would pay the price for what amounts to a crime against the state under the country’s system of hereditary discipline.

All of this makes the North Koreans very dedicated workers. At Eermel, Mr Woods said he was very proud of the company’s hard-won relationship with EWM and praised the North Korean staff. “Why they come over from North Korea to Mongolia I’m not entirely certain,” he said. “They work hard and we’re happy to have them here.”

A global market

Mongolia The practice of using North Korean workers goes back to at least 2004. A new deal was signed in 2008 that allowed for more than 5,000 workers to come to Mongolia until 2013. There are currently around 3,000 in the country.

Russia There are some 21,000 North Korean workers in the far east of the country, where they work in logging camps. They reportedly have just two rest days a year.

China No reliable statistics exist, but there are thought to be thousands of North Koreans working in China. The numbers in Dandong, a city close to the border, is said to have soared in recent years.

Here is a related story in the Daily NK.

Here is some information on Eermel (Evseg):

Founded in 1982 and privatized in 1994, Eermel (Evseg TM) is on its way to becoming a strong competitor in the world market of quality cashmere and camel wool products. Today, it is the second largest manufacturer of Cashmire in Mongolia, after Gobi Cashmere Industry.

Presently, Eermel has over 600 workers and has capacity of washing 500.0 tons and de-hairing 90.0 tons annually, making it highly efficient in key segments of Cashmire production. The company now has four production lines of textile, knitting, sewing and quilting, and produces more than 380 different types of end-products available for customers to purchase at prestige stores throughout Mongolia. The company exports dehaired cashmere to Switzerland, China, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan and the USA, and exports knitted yarns to Japan, Italy, China, United Kingdom and Mexico. Russia continues to be the largest recipient of Eermel Cashmire exports.

In addition to Cashmire, Eermel is Mongolian trading company that trades in coal, cobalt and copper and is also an importer of consumer goods to Mongolia. 50 percent of Eermel’s shares are owned by the everyday workers of the plant.

The company has been selling public shares since November 28, 1992 with the initial price of 100 MNT per 1 unit of stock.


Friday Fun: Fashion, Beer and Coca-Cola

Friday, September 30th, 2011

North Korean Fashion Archives

Choson Exchange posted the following on their web page:

During our last trip, we met with Korea Daesong Bank, which kindly provided a product catalog from the 80s/90s of their parent company – Korea Daesong Economic Group (KDEG). While fashion definitely has moved on in Pyongyang, we thought that it might be good to share some of the products they display in their catalog – for old times sake. In case you decide that the retro look is for you, do note that KDEG is currently under international sanctions.

Choson Exchange posted the pictures to their Facebook Page, but since there are many people who cannot (or do not) access Facebook, I thought I would post the pictures here:

American beer popular in the DPRK?

Pictured above (left) is a bottle of Budweiser served with dry fish aboard the recent Mangyongbong-92 “cruise” from Rason to Kumgangsan.  Learn more here. Pictured above (right) is a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) which has been converted into a candle holder and placed next to a bottle of “domestic” Taedonggang Beer. Click image for source. Maybe the number of hipster visitors to the DPRK has increased?

Coca Cola
Forbes Magazine has a very interesting article on talks between the North Koreans and Coca-Cola! Read the full article here.  I thought this would be a good time to remind readers about the DPRK’s indigenous cola:

Image source here

The soda is “Crabonated” which is a pretty funny typo. Also worth noting are the lengths they have gone through to copy the Coca-Cola brand–as if they are trying to win back market-share from the firm. The colors, red, black, silver and white are the same. The familiar cursive English “C” at the beginning of the word is a close copy. They even tried to replicate the Coke “wave” by adding a literal wave in a similar curve along the bottom of the advert.



Kangdong market prices

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Kangdong Market (39.134801°, 126.109387°)

According to the Daily NK:

It has been revealed that the cost of living in Pyongyang has more or less held steady over the past month, despite a modest decrease in rice prices.

According to sources in Pyongyang, one kilogram of rice is trading for about 1,900 North Korean won, which represents a fall of about 100 won on June prices. It is thought that a modest easing of the exchange rate of North Korean Won against Chinese Yuan and the importation of a large amount of rice from China are partially responsible for the change.

“Chinese rice is currently selling for roughly 200-300 won less than Chosun (North Korea) rice,” one source said, explaining, “Chinese merchants and the like brought the rice into the country en masse at the start of the year when the price of rice was rising, but now it’s not selling so well. The price of rice has fallen across the broad and is fluctuating at around the 2,000 won mark.”

At the end of January, the price of a kilogram of rice temporarily soared past the 3,000 won mark. There was some speculation at the time that wholesalers were colluding to raise prices. After the price went up, a natural increase in market supply and a drop in purchasing power from currency redenomination kicked in to force prices back down. Since then it has more or less stabilized at around the 2,000 won per kilogram mark again.

The price for corn, which usually trades for about half the price of rice, has also recorded a small fall to 850 won per kilogram, down 130 won on last month’s prices. Pork prices are stable at 5,800 won per kilogram, which is the same price as last month.

Moreover, second-hand clothes are showing brisk trade on the market. One source attributed their popularity to the fact that they sell for less than half the price of new clothes.

Additionally, the source claimed that the warmer weather is encouraging more people to purchase sleeveless and short-sleeve shirts, as well as shorts and skirts. “Sleeveless shirts are prohibited by the authorities, so people only wear them at home. Mostly young people are doing this,” he said.

“Short-sleeve shirts, shorts and skirts are selling like hotcakes as well, but it is required that the latter two items go down past the knees.”

The cost of living in North Korea has more or less returned to the levels they were at before the currency redenomination. It is business as usual at the jangmadang, but with trade volume well down from what it was before. The source explained that, while people are not holding onto cash as a result of the currency revaluation, it is only food items and lifestyle goods that are selling relatively well, while sales of high-ticket electronic goods have actually decreased.

Here is the price data collected from the Kangdong Market on the outskirts of Pyongyang (JPG):

Left: June 2011, Right: July 2011

Links to the discussion of North Korea’s food crisis can be found here.

Read the full story here:
Market Prices Stable, Sleeveless Shirts Popular
Daily NK
Choi Cheong Ho and Park Sung Kook


Foreign clothing gaining popularity in DPRK

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

Young people in North Korea are emerging as proponents of Hallyu (the South Korean cultural wave) and as fashion leaders, showing themselves to be particularly keen on the South Korean music, movies, and fashion that are being smuggled into the country and traded.

On Wednesday, The Daily NK met with a Chinese merchant who conducts business in Pyongyang to find out about trends amongst young people in North Korea. He told us that, “Hooded sweatshirts are enjoying immense popularity with young people at the moment.” The reason, he explained, is that, “They want to emulate the fashion they see in South Korean dramas.”

He added, “At the jangmadang, hooded sweatshirts sell for about 200 Yuan (around US$31), so they’re not cheap, but so many people come looking for them that we almost run out of hooded sweatshirts to sell.”

The source explained that, in spite of this, South Korean brands and products with English lettering are prohibited from being sold.

“As the days get hotter, people are looking to get their hands on short-sleeve clothing. Light-colored clothing is most popular,” he noted, also mentioning that, “In general, new clothes sell for about 15,000 won and second-hand clothes for about 3,000 won.

One-piece dresses are in vogue with females as summer takes hold. These dresses tend to sell at the jangmadang for around 70,000 won. Additionally, the source said, “There are lots of young ladies looking for high-heel shoes, which go for about 25,000-30,000 won. Skinny jeans are as popular as ever, and you see lots of people walking around in three-quarter pants.”

He also mentioned that many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to wear shorts and sleeveless shirts to beat the humidity.

However, authorities have already cracked down on “inappropriate attire” for women, for example by banning skirts that do not go down past the knee. The sleeveless shirts, short skirts and pants that have become fashionable in recent times are difficult to wear out of the house because a person wearing them would become a target of the Union of Democratic Women’s community watch guards.

Regarding this, the source said, “People get punished for wearing shorts or skirts that don’t come down past the knee. The UDW’s community watch guards are in every lane and alleyway inspecting women (who break the law). Sleeveless clothes do sell, but nobody can wear them. So they just wear such items at home.”

Furthermore, he mentioned that, “Young ladies walk around wearing earrings and bracelets,” explaining that, “Bracelets, watches, rings and hairpins all tend to be popular itemsbecause people think they’re pretty.” North Korean authorities restricted the wearing of accessories in the past, but appear to have eased off on this policy in recent times.

He relayed that crackdowns on South Korean-made goods are as common as ever. According to him, those who get caught in the crackdowns have their goods confiscated on the spot. “The crackdowns on South Korean goods are still going strong,” he said. “At the outdoor market, the patrolling officers are checking practically every item tag now. That’s how serious it has got.”

“The intensity of crackdowns on South Korean movies and dramas on DVD that are coming into the country is always increasing,” he said, “but university students and young people in general are getting hold of South Korean and other foreign movies and selling them in secret.”

South Korean dramas and movies usually sell for 5,000 won (a normal DVD sells for 1,300 won), and at the moment IRIS, Assorted Gems, Slave Hunter, Queen of the Game and Smile, Mom are said to be the most popular.

Read the full story here:
Fashion Also Influenced by South Korean Culture
Daily NK
Choi Cheong Ho


Foreign used clothing popular in DPRK

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities are reportedly reacting more strictly than normal to overt sales of products from South Korea in the country’s domestic markets.

One Korean-Chinese man engaged in business in Pyongan and Hwanghae Provinces told The Daily NK on June 11th, “They’re cracking down hard on products from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the jangmadang, and are reacting more strongly than before to South Korean products, too. There are no South Korean goods on sale openly.”

Sources say that in many cases this means that traders are being told to remove tags indicating South Korean origin.

The same trader explained, “Community watch guards come to the jangmadang and tell us to remove tags written in Chosun then sell them. They are thoroughly cracking down on things saying ‘Made in Korea’. Even though the clothes are of good quality, and therefore clearly South Korean, if there is no tag, then they are not prohibited.”

Currently, used clothes are said to be selling better than new ones, however. This is partly because people have little cash and are gravitating towards the cheaper prices, and partly because they don’t trust new products.

The trader explained, “The image of South Korean clothes is good as far as used clothes selling better than new ones goes. People think that new clothes are of poor quality and really expensive.”

He explained the reason for the low quality, saying, “Currently, producers are buying fabric in China to bring back and manufacture clothes in Chosun, and then they put ‘Made in China’ tags on them.”

A woman’s short-sleeve t-shirt is now worth 5,000 won for a new one but just 1,500 won for a used one. Since the price difference is huge and new ones are of questionable quality, decent used ones sell better.

Another source from Changbai in China corroborated the story, explaining, “Everybody from North Korea asks us to send them used stuff to sell. We go to Guangzhou to buy used clothes smuggled in from South Korea, and send them to North Korea. The demand from North Korea for South Korean used clothes is pretty high.”

Meanwhile, due to mobilization for seasonal agricultural work, the North Korean markets are currently operating from 5 PM to 7PM. They normally open at 2 PM.

However, the Korean-Chinese trader explained that despite the afternoon market closures, farms are facing an uphill battle, saying, “Since anyone who wants to survive has to trade, the number of traders has doubled. And since almost everyone is trading and their focus is on that, there is no way the farming work can go well.”

Read the full story here:
“Remove Tags, then Sell Them”
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong


DPRK fashion update

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The Daily NK on earrings and cosmetic surgery:

Earrings, once seen as a capitalist symbol and a target for crackdowns, are becoming more and more popular with North Korean women of all social levels in urban areas, while the growth of cheap, unregulated surgical procedures is apparently attracting attention in the capital.

This desire for beauty has even forced the authorities onto the back foot; they have reportedly stopped attempting to control some of the social changes.

A source from the West Sea port city of Nampo explained the situation there on the 13th, saying, “In the past, long earrings were a crackdown target, but now they stop it so people are wearing them a lot.”

Of course, in past years young women in major cities and around the border region also wore earrings, but did so more furtively. If and when caught, they were criticized as examples of an anti-socialist trend at a time when the standard ‘Chosun woman’ was advertized as one who had short bobbed hair, wore no make-up and was to be seen in a dress that came to between knee and ankle.

However, starting with the more affluent families of government officials and now found throughout society, this officially decreed standard of dress is no longer accepted. Indeed, even Kim Jong Cheol was seen with an earring at a recent Eric Clapton concert in Singapore, and, according to North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, “A decree from Kim Jong Eun was handed down this past January stating that earrings are to be accepted.”

Indeed, while official controls on issues of beauty and accessories have been melting away, clothing including skinny jeans, which reveal the figure very closely, have grown in popularity for affluent Pyongyang women.

Even cosmetic surgery is said to be gaining in popularity. Although still illegal, some doctors will apparently perform certain procedures on the side for extra money, while there are also unqualified surgeons offering their services.

One Pyongyang source explained, “Double eyelids, eyebrows, lips and tattooing around the eyes are popular,” adding, “Seven out of ten women between 20 and 40 have had one or other of these procedures done. Mostly it is women who do it; there are many who feel they must do it even if they are short of food.”

According to the same source, part of this popularity stems from the surprising cheapness of the processes concerned. The tattooing of fake eyebrows costs in the region of 1,000-2,000 won, while double eyelids cost just 2,000-3,000 won. This at a time when a kilo of rice in the market costs only slightly less than 2,000 won.

However, the Nampo source explained that there are still some limits in that city at least, where “university students are not permitted to wear striking earrings inside their schools.”

And more on the DPRK people seeking to emulate the clothing of characters in ROK dramas:

The so-called ‘Korean Wave’ is strong with today’s young North Korean adults. As copies of illegally-recorded South Korean dramas flow into the country in greater numbers, some affluent young adults are keen to imitate the main characters in the dramas they are watching.

Of late, some children of rich parents are said to have tried to obtain the kind of tracksuit worn by Hyun Bin, who recently personified the life of a ‘self-centered and arrogant urban male’ in the popular SBS drama ‘Secret Garden’. For women, the trend is to follow the fashion of Kim Nam Joo, who played the main character in another drama, MBC’s ‘Queen of the Turn Around’.

Kim, a Korean-Chinese who trades between Dandong and Sinuiju, recently gave an interview to The Daily NK about the trend towards South Korean fashion in contemporary North Korea.

– Recently, what South Korean products have been the most popular with North Koreans?

All South Korean products are popular. There are many customers who want to buy South Korean products, so there are many sellers. Products with South Korean letters on can be sold for two or three times the price of other products.

– But what about the security services?

Agents who perform the inspections say, ‘we’ll let you sell them as long as the Korean letters are erased’. However, the trend is that more and more customers are looking for South Korean stuff, and since there is no way to prove whether the product is from South Korea if there is no Korean lettering, increasing numbers of merchants, who don’t want to miss a sale, think ‘I’ll just sell it as it is’ despite the crackdowns.

– What clothing is the trendiest these days?

The recently-aired South Korean drama ‘Queen of the Turn Around’ has been the most popular. Clothing worn by the main characters is popular. Except those things which reveal too much chest and the skirts, it’s all very similar to China. Now, skinny jeans are being worn by a surprising number of women.

– This is true even though South Korean products are more expensive?

It is such a big trend that even young adults who are having trouble making ends meet feel that they have to buy these things; fights with parents over it are on the increase, too. The price of boots and such like is $20~30, but they sell a lot to young females. Clothing sells for between $15~100.

– Do the wealthy classes or children of cadres also by many South Korean products?

They buy the most. Children from the houses of cadres or the wealthy seek the exact clothing which appears in South Korean dramas. Recently, fake mink has been popular. Especially, middle aged people in their 40s and 50s are wearing clothing made of fake mink a lot.

– What about when the product is different from that which the consumers are looking for?

There is a separate person who amends clothing. The cost of getting something changed is about 10,000 won, so they also make a lot of money. As a result, security agents try to get close to them. They visit them sometimes to get bribes; the agents don’t bother them.

– Why are South Korean products so popular?

It is because people are watching CDs of South Korean dramas secretively and imitating them.

– What if the same product people see on film is not on sale?

The person makes a drawing of the nice clothes which appeared in the drama or brings a picture. Clothing manufacturers have a hard time when young females bring an image and beg them to make the clothing no matter what.

– Especially is that the case with the children of cadres?

Once I met a child who brought the image of an item which would have been impossible to obtain, and then asked whether I could even get it by going to South Korea; that was a difficult situation. Not long ago, there was also one person who asked me to obtain the tracksuit worn by the main character in a recent South Korean drama.

Previous posts on DPRK fashion here.

Read the full stories here:
Push for Beauty Altering Official Curbs
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong and Jeong Jae Sung

Looking Like Hyun Bin or Kim Nam Joo
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong


DPRK to distribute light industrial goods to the people by April 2012

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-02-08

In last month’s New Year’s Joint Editorial, North Korean authorities reaffirmed the national drive to strongly develop the country’s light industrial sector by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. On February 2, the Choson Sinbo, the newspaper of the pro-North Korean residents’ league in Japan, proclaimed that all efforts were being focused on delivering high-quality light industrial goods by April of next year.

North Korea’s minister of light industry, forty-seven year old Hu Chul San, was interviewed by the paper’s Kook Jang Eun. Hu stated that light industrial zones already in operation would be further bolstered and the provision of raw materials would be prioritized for celebrations surrounding the 100-year birthday of the country’s founder.

The North Korean regime has set 2012 as the year in which it will “open the doors to a great and prosperous nation,” and Kim Il Sung’s April 15 birthdate has been set as the first target for economic revival. Just as in 2010, this year’s Joint Editorial called for light industrial growth and improvements in the lives of the North Korean people as the ‘strong and prosperous nation’ goal is pursued.

Minister Hu gave one example of the expected boost in production, stating that all students, from elementary school to university, would receive new school uniforms by next April. “Originally, school uniforms were issued to all students once every three years, but as the nation’s economic situation grew more difficult, [the regime] was unable to meet the demand.” He promised that for the 100-year anniversary, “Rationing would take place as it did when the Great Leader was here.”

The minister also explained that all preparations for distributing light industrial goods to the people next April needed to be completed by the end of this year, since Kim Il Sung’s birthday fell so early in the spring. He stated that a strong base had already been established for the production of high-quality goods, and that many organizations had already mass-produced high-quality goods for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party founding last year, offering the Pyongyang Sock Factory, the Sinuiju Textile Mill, the Botong River Shoe Factory, and the Pyongyang Textile Mill as examples.

When asked how North Korea would resolve raw material shortages, the minister explained that since the February 8 Vinalon Complex began operations last year, Vinalon and several other types of synthetic materials were available. The Sunchon Chemical Complex and other industries were also providing synthetic materials to light industrial factories throughout the country, strongly supporting indigenous efforts to increase production. He added, “Raw rubber, fuel and other materials absent from our country must be imported,” but that “national policies were being implemented” to ensure steady supply.

Minister Hu admitted that there was no shortage of difficulties, but that every worker was aware of the importance of meeting the April deadline, and that because raw material shortages were being resolved, light industries were now able to press ahead with full-speed production.