SEOUL (Reuters) - A shop in South Korea’s capital specializing in goods made in the North has run nearly $140,000 through its tills in just three months of business, helping dispel the notion that products from the impoverished state are shoddy and undesirable.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex Shop opened in May showcasing North Korea and the skills of its workers, to present the country as a viable business partner to the prosperous South.
“North Korean employees are young and are fast learners, and we use materials from the South. So the quality is just as good as products of South Korean brands, at relatively lower prices,” said shop vice president Lee Joung-duk.
Lee is president of Young Inner Foam Corp, one of 125 firms from the South operating in Kaesong. The industrial zone was set up by the two Koreas in 2003 a few kilometers north of their armed border, and now employs about 53,000 North Koreans.
Lee partnered the owners of 11 other Kaesong companies, investing about $17,000 each, to set up the store to bring Kaesong goods directly to consumers.
“We are the first to be using the line ‘Made in Kaesong.'”
The two-storey store, the first of several planned outlets, sells clothing and jewelry boxes in downtown Seoul. Business has been brisk, with sales of about $1,700 a day and more than 200 daily visitors.
Lee Ae-ran, a defector from the North who runs a nearby restaurant serving North Korean-style food, welcomed the idea of a platform to change attitudes toward the North’s workforce.
“Many South Koreans assume North Korean products to be poor quality because the country isn’t doing so well economically.”
Yang Sang-cheol, a taxi driver parked outside the shop, said he would be interested in buying something for his son-in-law.
“We should know better than to always criticize and compete with each other,” he said of the Koreas. “We should allow more things to come and go between us so that we can actually ‘feel’ one another.”
Reporting by Hooyeon Kim; Editing by Jack Kim and Christopher Cushing