Yesterday, just before going to bed, I was reading the BBC news website and came across an odd article announcing the release of premium jeans in Sweden. Normally, something like this wouldn’t be big news but, the title of the article begins with the words “North Korean designer jeans…” !?!
The jeans, named Noko Jeans, are being released today in Sweden and will cost 1,500 Swedish kronor ($220; £132). The whole adventure started with an email sent to North Korea in 2007 asking about the possibility of shifting some of their production from Southern China. According to the BBC article:
So the email started a relationship that resulted in an official diplomatic invitation to North Korea.
What spurred this?
“The reason we chose North Korea was, and is, because we had had an interest in the country for quite some time. North Korea is one of the few blank spots on the map, both figuratively and literally—Noko Jeans was a way to gain access to an otherwise isolated country. A way to learn more about it. There’s little to none infrastructure for producing JEANS since it’s a product they’ve never done before, but they DO have up-to-date factories in the Pyongyang-vicinity (where our factory is!).”
Maybe denim production is lacking in the Hermit Kingdom because the dress code forbids them. In fact, Noko jeans are only available in black because blue denim is too ‘American.’
Naturally, after I recovered from the shock of this information, I wondered, how can they justify it? We may not know much about North Korea but we have heard a few things here and there.
I did a quick search and found that a few others have asked the same question. On their facebook page, Noko Jeans responded to a query about the money trail (where does it go?):
As you’ve written, and we firmly believe, projects like this is a way to influence. Even though we work in a very “micro” context, we believe we bring something to to the table. Outer influences are only a good thing. Be it through detailed CSR/code of conducts agreement, or the fact that we’re physically present throughout ALL our production, our collaborators are – kindly, of course – forced to work in a different way than when, for example, Chinese or South Korean companies produce clothes there.
We worked more than 2,5 years (still without any salary for any of us) to realize this project so I really hope that you understand that this is much more than us going to North Korea for ten days and setting up a jeans factory….. We stayed at the factory for the whole time during the production to make sure that our code of conduct was followed to the point. I don’t know any other example of any other garment producer in the world who show that kind of dedication in making sure that the CSR-policy is more than a piece of paper….…
The price of the jeans is to cover our expenses, but since the interest for the jeans seems to be huge at the moment we might have some money left beginning of next year. And some of that money will of course be given back to the country and/or the factory somehow. We’re working on how to do this in a proper way, for example in reinvesting in the machinery of the factory — or in person give something back to the people who made the pants.
They also have this video on their Vimeo account showing their factory.
To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what to think about this so, I emailed Noko jeans earlier today asking about their Code of Conduct and also asking them for an interview.
If you have any questions that you would like me to ask, please let me know. Stay tuned for an update to this fascinating story!!