An interesting article was recently featured on The Pipeline, regarding the emergence of denim brand Noko Jeans, produced out an unlikely source, the country of North Korea. An intriguing tale about not only denim production but the process from which is began can be seen below, as well as an interview with the brand’s founders.
First off, why North Korea?
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!).
How did you manage to navigate the red tape and finally convince North Korea to let you manufacture there? Did you have to pull some crazy antics to win the bureaucrats over?
At first, it was via e-mail, which was pretty cool (we expected fax), and then through countless of face-to-face meetings in conference rooms, dimly lit bars, weird cellars, Chinese back-alleys and North Korean computer centres (to name but a few locations that this project has taken us. All of these encounters have resulted in a very loving relationship between us and some of the North Koreans that we’ve met.For example, once we had to help a diplomat to crack his Adobe Acrobat software so he could send a PDF.
Were there any insane trade laws you had to tackle?
The laws in NK are too complicated to explain. We’re not even sure we fully understand them… yet. Sometimes they can stall you for weeks, and sometimes they’re as smooth as silk. We usually deal with them by always asking the question “WHY”. If someone has to look through our containers we ask “WHY”, if our visas are stalled for a month, we ask “WHY”. Usually we get an answer, sometimes we don’t. Then we ask again.
The rest of the interview can be read at Refinery 29.