Archive for the ‘Clothing’ Category

Hot 2010 DPRK consumer goods

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Skinny jeans, blue crabs, pig-intestine rolls and even human manure were some of the hottest items among North Korean consumers this year, according to a South Korean professor who has interviewed recent defectors from the communist country.

Kim Young-soo, a political science professor at Seoul’s Sogang University, said in a conference on Tuesday that adult movies, television dramas and instant noodle “ramen” made in South Korea are also selling “like hot cakes” in North Korea.

Skinny jeans refer to slim-fit pants that have gained popularity around the world, said Kim who interviewed about 2,000 defectors this year as part of a research project for the government.

He said that skinny jeans are so popular in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, that people there sometimes mistakenly believe Chinese wearing the stylish clothes are roaming their capital.

“These are signs that North Korea is easing its isolation,” Kim said in a telephone interview, noting that such lifestyle changes are conspicuous in Pyongyang and areas near the border with China.

The professor said many of the defectors he has interviewed had stayed in China no longer than a month before they came to South Korea, allowing him to have a relatively up-to-date glimpse of the latest culture in the communist country.

Kim said defectors told him pine mushrooms were also a “hit” among North Koreans this year because exports to South Korea had been diverted into the domestic market since cross-border tensions soared over the deadly March sinking of a South Korean warship.

After a multinational investigation in May found North Korea responsible for the sinking that killed 46 sailors, Seoul banned cross-border trade as part of its punitive measures.

Kim said blue crabs have met the same fate as pine mushrooms, allowing North Koreans to enjoy what was once a rarity for them. The professor even told of a shop in which human manure could be traded to be used as an alternative to chemical fertilizer, an item on which the North had heavily depended from the South for years.

“Soondae,” or sausage rolls stuffed with ingredients such as noodles and vegetables and wrapped in pig intestine films, has also made inroads into the market as a staple after the military stopped collecting pork and other food items from civilians, Kim said.

“These changes may not necessarily lead to greater ones in society, but they do bear a meaning,” he said.

Read the full sotry here:
Skinny jeans, pig-intestine rolls among “hit items” in North Korea this year: survey
Sam Kim


Friday Fun: South Park in Pyongyang, mass games tours, and missing traffic girls

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

FIRST: A visitor to Pyongyang sent me these photos of a North Korean boy wearing a South Park shirt on Mansu Hill:

I trust that I do not need to explain why this is interesting.

SECOND: From Koryo Tours: The latest news from Pyongyang is that Arirang, the spectacular 100,000-strong mass gymnastic event has been extended until October 25th, marking the final performance of the 2010 season. If you haven’t yet seen tens of thousands of people moving in unison, 20,000 students forming a giant mosaic or the dancing eggs that makes Arirang unique, don’t miss our Last Chance Tour. Visitors can also see the massive monuments of Pyongyang, eat food “fit for royalty” in the ancient city of Kaesong and watch the North and South stare each other down at the DMZ. There’s no word yet on whether 2011 will have mass games at all – this just might be Arirang’s last dance. Don’t miss it!

If you are not able to see the Mass Games this year you should still see Centre Forward!

THIRD: has a couple of interesting recent updates from the DPRK.  The first claims that all of Pyongyang’s traffic ladies have been replaced by traffic lights.  Read the report here.  The second report covers a whole list of interesting observations.  Check out the report here.


North Korean fashion:Jeans, Jesus, and Mickey Mouse

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Beow I have posted some pictures of interesting North Korean clothing:

The family photo below features a little girl wearing blue jeans in public (via Free North Korea Radio):

Blue jeans are frowned upon in public in the DPRK (though privately popular).  Some Swedes are manufacturing jeans in North Korea–though not blue ones.  Learn more here.

The below photo features a shirt which states in English, “Jesus is my Lord” (via Free North Korea Radio):

Jesus made a cameo on another North Kroean girl’s shirt last year.  It is highly likely that the wearers have no idea what the shirts actually say–and neither does anyone around them.

The below photo features a girl with  a Mickey Mouse backpack (via this Russian web page):

Mickey Mouse was also seen on a girl’s backpack in the North Korean film A School Girls’ Diary.

Here are previous posts on clothing.


Weekend fun: Pyongyang fashion

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Below is an interesting photo of a North Korean girl in pants speaking on her Koryolink mobile phone. The photo is from this Russian language web page.

Click image for larger version

Her outfit is pretty trendy: Pink-rimmed square glasses, Chinese-style purse, pants, and apparently two mobile phones (one in each hand). Not the typical scene in Pyongyang.

Previous posts about women’s fashion can be seen here, and here.

Other posts about clothing in the DPRK can be seen here.


Kim’s expensive clothes

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Kim Jong-il’s Mao suit is anything but affordable and utilitarian, according to a defector who used to supply luxury goods to the North Korean leader. “It should be called a luxury suit instead,” said the defector, who requested anonymity.

While working for the regime, his job was to tour the country’s embassies and consulates overseas and buy goods for Kim. “In the early 1990s, I was ordered to buy fabric for the dear leader and went to France to buy 60 yards of high-quality, cashmere and silk fabric produced by Scabal of London,” he said. “I paid US$300 per yard, which came to $18,000.”

About four yards of fabric are needed to make a suit, so the price of the cloth alone for Kim’s suit amounted to $1,200. The North Korean leader apparently hands out fabric as a gift to his closest aides. “Even in terms of South Korean standards, that would be quite a luxurious product,” the defector said. “But for the average North Korean it is unimaginable.”

But expensive price tags alone do not guarantee products a spot on Kim’s wish list. “There are plenty of other fabrics that are even more expensive than Scabal,” the defector said. “Kim Jong-il developed a liking for Scabal, because he heard foreign celebrities enjoy wearing clothes made using the fabric.”

Park Je-hyun, who owns a tailor shop in the trendy Cheongdam-dong neighborhood in Seoul, said, “Scabal is not a top-notch fabric, but it doesn’t wrinkle easily, which is why people on the move like it.” Fans include former U.S. President George W. Bush and movie star Will Smith.

At one time Kim apparently only wore shoes made by Italian cobbler Moreschi. “In early 2000, high-ranking North Korean government officials heard a rumor that the Dear Leader wears only Moreschi shoes, so they scoured Moreschi stores whenever they went on overseas trips,” the defector said.

Kim is picky about his luxury brands. According to the defector, he has a penchant for Perrier bottled water, Martell Cognac and imported menthol cigarettes. One foreign diplomat said, “During his visit to China in 2005, Kim Jong-il was delighted to see bottles of Perrier that Chinese officials had prepared for him and asked his aides how the Chinese knew he liked Perrier.”

The defector said, “I used to go to Switzerland a lot to buy large numbers of Omega watches. They weren’t all for Kim Jong-il, but as rewards for his staff. He added, “Kim Jong-il doesn’t need a watch. If he wants to know the time, he can just ask his underlings.”

Kim Jong-il rarely appears in a “Mao suit” any more (a “Mao suit” is known in the DPRK as a “Kim Il-sung suit” and in China as a Sun Yat-sin suit).  Kim Jong-il usually appears in public wearing a “soldier-worker jumper.

Read the full story here:
Kim Jong-il’s Label Addiction Revealed
Choson Ilbo


DPRK market price of grains stabilizing

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:


Today, the North Korean markets seem to have returned to the days before the currency redenomination. The price of rice appears to be rather stable, especially when compared with that of February or March. Especially, following Kim Jong Il’s trip to China, rumors indicating that food would be imported began to circulate, and this has made declining prices even more marked.

According to inside sources, the price of rice in Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung Province is now 480 won per kilo (June 4th), 420 won in Sinuiju (June 7th), 360 won in Sunam-district of Pyongyang (June 2nd), and 380 won in Sariwon (June 7th). The price of corn is approximately 50% that of rice, although recently in Hwanghae Province, households using corn as feed for pigs drove an unusual situation where the corn price reached almost 70% that of rice.

The exact nature of Chinese support for North Korea cannot be confirmed officially, however, the North Korean regime’s encouraging foreign currency earning enterprises to import food from China since March seems to have contributed to rice price stabilization.

One inside source added that the “reactivation of food smuggling on the border between North Korea and China” has also helped.

However, the main overall reason for the failure of the initial prediction, “When the farm hardship period comes in May and June, food prices will skyrocket” appears to have been the normalization of the market.

The source commented, “Compared with the situation prior to the currency redenomination, trading in industrial goods has decreased slightly, however, it is close to its previous condition. Since buyers and sellers can access that market any time, price volatility is not that great anymore.”

That being said, the opening hours of the market have been reduced since the authorities handed down a “rice planting battle order” in early May which stated, “Everyone must participate in the rice planting battle. The market should only be used for the purchase of food, side dishes and those necessities required for the day.”

The source explained, “Markets everywhere now open between 2 and 4 P.M. and close at sunset,” adding that there are small differences depending on the particular market. In North Hamkyung Province, the market normally closes at sunset; however, markets in Hwanghae Province and Pyongan Province, which are under heavier pressure due to the rice planting, close earlier, at around 6 P.M.

But concerns about food will not be solved even if the price of rice remains stable. Merchants are still watching prices with a concerned look since rumors constantly assert that food prices will increase again in July. The North Hamkyung Provincial Party Committee held a cadres meeting last May in which it released news that food distribution for the months from July to October must be prepared by each unit individually, meaning that the central authorities have no plans to assist.

The agricultural situation is one concern. North Korea has been suffering from a severe fertilizer crisis since the beginning of spring farm preparations. After Kim Jong Il’s visit to China, Chinese fertilizer was imported which temporarily alleviated the situation, but the rumor is that fertilizer for the summer has yet to arrive.

Recently, Kim Jong Il visited a domestic fertilizer production facility, Namheung Youth Chemical Works in Anju City, South Pyongan Province. There, he complimented factory management, saying, “It is a relief to know that fertilizer is being produced in Namheung.” The incident displays North Korea’s concerns about fertilizer.

Other factors which destabilize food prices are the icy inter-Korean relationship and international community sanctions.

Recently, around the North Korean market, the number of street vendors, so-called ‘grasshoppers’ has greatly increased. One source explained, “This situation has been caused by the middle class being demoted to the lower classes due to the big damage they incurred during the currency redenomination.”

Sharply decreasing trade in higher priced goods like home appliances and furniture is derived from the same source.

The tumbling credibility of the North Korean currency is another ongoing worry, as is a lack of small denomination bills. One source explained, “If you purchase a 30,000 won jumper from Sungyo Market in Pyongyang, the cost is $30 (market exchange rate, the equivalent of 27,000 won on the day), but it is 30,000 won if you pay in North Korean currency.” That’s a ten percent mark-up for people using local currency, the material representation of a lack of trust in the won.

In areas of Pyongyang, Wonsan, Sariwon, and Haeju, dollars and then Euros are preferred over won, but in Jagang Province, Yangkang Province, and North Hamkyung Province, Yuan are preferable to dollars. Places where all four; U.S. dollars, Yuan, Euros and won are being used are Sinujiu and the port city of Nampo on the west coast. One source explained that due to this situation, high-priced products like televisions, DVD players and refrigerators are being sold only for U.S. dollars or Yuan.

Also, he added, “There is a shortage of small bills which is causing some inconveniences in market trading.”

At the time of the currency redenomination, North Korea displayed 7 kinds of small bills and coins; 1 chon, 5 chon, 10 chon, 50 chon, 1 won, 5 won, and 10 won. The source explained that demand for the ‘chon’ unit coins is practically non-existent; the problem is that 1 won, 5 won, and 10 won are frequently used in market trading but a shortage of bills is causing inconvenience. Merchants are setting the price of goods mostly in increments of 10 won and 50 won as a result.

Read the full story here:
Everything Is Stable, But for How Long?
Daily NK
Park In-ho


Friday Fun: North Korean fashion

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I watch a lot of North Korean television either by seeking out content or receiving it through friends.  I have decided to post some of it to YouTube (apologies to readers in China) so that I can blog about it.  This first clip is from North Korean television (this month) and the subject is women’s fashion.


Click on image to watch the 5 minute television show.

I am not a fashion critic, so let a thousand flowers bloom–but I should add that clothing lies within the portfolio of the KWP Light Industry Bureau which is controlled by Kim Jong-il’s sister.

UPDATE: This video was featured in an article on Radio Free Asia.  It has a lot more information.

While figuring out how to use YouTube I also stumbled on another discussion of North Korean fashion by Suk-young Kim, associate professor of theater and dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea and translator of Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor. See her discussion on Youtube by clicking on the image below.



Friday Fun: The times they are a’ changin’ (UPDATE)

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

UPDATE:  A few weeks ago we were speculating as to whether DPRK women were getting tattoos (see original post below), but it seems this is sadly not the case.  It is more likely that these colorful icons are logos of some kind.  Another visitor to the DPRK this year sent in the following picture:

Click image to see stocking logo on the ankles

Do any readers from China recognize this logo?  I find it hard to believe that stockings made in the DPRK would be so brazen. As an aside, the woman in the picture above is wearing the same shoes as some of the women below.  It looks like thick souled shoes are in this year.

ORIGINAL POST: A recent visitor to North Korea with a very keen eye snapped this photo at Kamsusan Palace:


I have seen tattoos on North Korean men but never on women.  True, these may only be temporary tattoos (more likely since they all seem to match–both in design and in place of application), but this is also interesting.  Given the way the girls went about applying these tattoos it is likely they are trying to signal something.  What?  If anyone can find out more on North Korean tattoos–or where the Pyongyang tattoo parlor is (if there is one)–I will be eternally grateful.  I am not optimistic at this point.

Check out the full set of photos here.

UPDATE: Some readers think these could be logos on stockings.  This would also be interesting.  So would these be a local fashion innovation or imported from China?


US citizens: If you want NOKO jeans you need to go through OFAC

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

NOKO Jeans are finally for sale on their web page here.  However they include a not-so-subtle warning to American shoppers:

Important regarding ordering from the USA: at this time, goods of North Korean origin may not be imported into the United States either directly or indirectly without prior notification to and approval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You need to apply for this in order to import goods produced in North Korea. Contact OFAC here: It is the buyer’s responsibility to get this approval.

OFACS is the same outfit that is supposed to go after you if you visit Cuba.  I am not recommending you do so, but it semes to me that it would just be a lot easier to have a friend in Europe order them for you…

Read previous NOKO posts here.


Noko Jeans

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Some enterprising Swedes had some jeans manufactured in North Korea (where they can’t be worn in public) to be sold in the west.  The brand name is Noko Jeans.

The fist shipment  of appx 1,000 jeans arrived in Sweden on November 11, and the goods will go on sale December 4, 2009.

Here is a photo of the Noko jeans team with their shipment.

Here is a photo of all the  official stamps and approvals on the shipment.

IHere is their official web page: