N. Korea's first designer jeans on sale in Sweden

Tue Dec 1, 2009 11:37am EST
 
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By Jens Hansegard

STOCKHOLM (Reuters Life!) - 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.   Continued...