Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An "American Symbol," Made in North Korea

Posted By on 01.20.10 at 12:07 PM

The Kara slim fit from Noko Jeans.
  • nokojeans.com
  • The "Kara" slim fit from Noko Jeans.
Most of us already know that a lot of our clothes are made by people who work in less than optimal conditions and earn little money by Western standards—even high-end brands like Burberry and Louis Vuitton. Buying clothes—or at least the major part of a wardrobe—entirely made in the USA or Europe can be prohibitively expensive, so most of us figure out for ourselves how to make peace with the fact that what we wear may not be entirely sustainably or ethically produced.

But how about clothes made in North Korea? Would you draw a line there?

Were the three Swedish guys who decided to have their line, Noko Jeans, made in the super-secretive dictatorship (where they would only make black jeans, because the blue versions were "an American symbol") just getting the cheapest labor possible—like the founder of Ikea, who had furniture made in Communist Poland in the 60s, as Malcolm Gladwell notes in a recent New Yorker article on entrepreneurs.

On the Web site, they address the question thus:

"One of the most common questions we receive is the moral aspect of working with a such a country; can you justify it, or is it exploitation? We’ve worked, on our spare time, with Noko Jeans for 2,5 years to produce the 1100 jeans and not a single day has gone by that we haven’t asked ourselves the same question. And there is no easy answer.

"We decided to move forward with this project based on one belief and one demand. The belief being that any outside contact, and influences, such an isolated nation gets, can only be of good. And the demand being to be physically present during the production of our 1100 jeans. That way, we can both influence and control at least this 'micro context' this project is. And also make sure that our production is being made under humane conditions. We think it’s better to do something, even as small as this, than nothing at all."

Marketing bonanza? Capitalistic altruism? Both?

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