Dumb Hipster Idea of the Week: $220 Jeans From the Hermit Kingdom:

Three annoying Swedish hipsters traveled to the worst human rights abuser on Earth to produce 1,100 pairs of skinny jeans! Reuters has all the exciting, transgressive details:

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."

Penetrating insights, Jacob! In an interview with the Swedish magazine Resume, Åström refused to criticize Kim's Juche terror state, explaining that the public would have to wait to hear his opinion of the country. Setting up the Google Alert now.

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....During the summer, the trio travelled to the factory in North Korea to oversee the production process and ensure that workers there were treated according to Noko's guidelines.

So can we safely assume that publicly executing employees is outside of Noko's labor guidelines?

You can watch NoKo's promotional video (including some of the strangest English pronunciations outside of Pyongyang) here. And for those who speak a Scandinavian language, don't forget to register with the Swedish-North Korean Friendship Society.

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  • ||

    If you're a dude and you wear skinny jeans, you should probably just tattoo "FUCKKNUCLE" on your forehead and get ahead of the curve.

  • ||

    Or I could tattoo "CAN'T SPELL FUCKKNUCKLE" on my forehead.

  • ¢||

    Ivan Denisovich and Anne Frank were known for their reclusive natures.

  • ||

    They'll go so well with my Che t-shirt.

  • BakedPenguin||

    North Korea, which has grown increasingly isolated in recent years under Western criticism of its human rights record and nuclear ambitions.

    Yeah, NK used to be a beacon of transparency until the West started wagging its collective finger.

    Oh, and Dear Leader is kind to his slaves workers. All you have to do is see A Day in the Life by Dutch documentary filmmaker / douchebag Pieter Fleury to know that.

    (To be fair, he did point out that much of what he filmed was staged for his benefit, but you would have to be so stupid as to continue to believe in the honesty of CRU not to know otherwise.)

    Also, it's amazing what North Korean drones put forth as the positive face of their country. Small children dancing in unison while unnatural smiles never flit form their faces. Workers' apartments that have the modern conveniences of refrigerators and black and white TV's. It's simultaneously sad and creepy.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's simultaneously sad and creepy.

    Come to think of it, so's that guy in the picture.

  • ||

    "Here's a quarter. Go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face."

  • ||

    I actually got an advanced copy of the first ad copy for North Korean billboards:

    http://img38.yfrog.com/img38/208/nokojeans.jpg

  • ||

    Wear my jeans, you won't be so ronery!

  • Here's a tip||

    That's not Korean, those are Chinese characters.

  • ||

    So if these twats can import jeans made with slave labor, does that mean we can start importing shoes made by children in SE Asia again?

  • MJ||

    I thought people like this were opposed to sweatshop labor?

  • ||

    "NoKo" jeans? I'll call them "Norks".

    -jcr

  • ||

    Crap. Wish there was an edit feature. Corrected version:

    http://img213.imageshack.us/im.....ojeans.jpg

  • Colin||

    Well, anything that introduces capitalism into NK can't be too bad.

  • G Mc||

    I'm not sure this is such a horrible thing. Any contact with the outside world is probably better than no contact for whoever North Koreans this involves and hell, if these guys make money off the scheme, who are we to criticize?

  • .||

    Who are we to think? It's only slaves. Gook slaves at that. And there's money to be made.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Isn't this just an extreme version of the old conundrum of whether it's good or bad to do business with Chinese companies? Although I have all the appropriate ambiguous feelings about it, I think commercial trade with China is beneficial on the whole. So, I guess, to be consistent, I have to say that commercial trade with North Korea is beneficial on the whole.

    Hmm, I should ask: Are these guys doing business with a North Korean company or with North Korea? Whom do the actual workers work for?

  • Paul||

    Although I have all the appropriate ambiguous feelings about it, I think commercial trade with China is beneficial on the whole.

    It is. By engaging with China, we're in a much better position to influence their policies-- preferably the bad ones.

    By helping them expand their economy, the obvious freedoms emerge which are, of course, difficult to contain through central planning. While China will continue to try to control their citizens, ultimately they can't.

  • Z||

    The Chinese actually changed their economy when they opened up, and a Chinese worker directly benefits from a job producing exports for the West. In North Korea all production is still controlled by the state, and the Korean worker won't see a wage increase or any other benefit from this employment.

  • ||

    At least, if you sell it that way, it will encourage the progressive hipsters to start protesting and boycotting the jeans.

  • ||

    Reading the article:

    "a trade representative once asked them to help him find a pirated version of the computer program Adobe Acrobat so he could read files they were sending him."

    Jeez, things are so bad in North Korea they have to pirate free software.

  • Mike Laursen||

    As a software engineer who works on these products, I have to set you straight: Adobe Reader is free. You have to pay for Adobe Acrobat.

  • Pirate Bay||

    Says you.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Shame on you, Pirate Bay. Shame on you. I don't know how you sleep at night.

  • Just Pirate||

    With two wenches, a bottle of rum, and a peg leg.

  • Mike Laursen||

    By the way, would you happen to have the latest copy of AutoCAD?

  • ||

    Right but to actually read the files in question, they'd only need the reader.

    Acrobat, IIRC, is for editing and producing .pdf files as well as reading them.

  • Mike Laursen||

    When I worked at Xerox, it was drummed into all of us on a regular basis that we were never supposed to utter the words, "I'm going to xerox this piece of paper." At Adobe, it's a no-no to say "Acrobat Reader" -- it's Adobe Reader.

  • Brian E||

    I'll stick to saying "Sumatra PDF". It's a lot faster.

  • Rimfax||

    Anything but the slow hog that is Adobat Reader.

  • Mike Laursen||

    What's the deal with these $220 jeans made in North Korea, anyway! Outrageous!

  • Space Fiend||

    Does Xerox hate its own brand equity or what? That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard, I really doubt the Kleenex people say "call them facial tissues!"

  • Tonio||

    Dude, actually yes they do. It's all about something called "trademark dilution." If everyone called them "Kleenex" then the term would have moved into common usage and be no longer able to be used as a trademark.

    My ex-wife used to subscribe to "Writers Digest" and the rag was replete with full-page ads from companies like Caterpillar asking the professional (and wannabe) writers to refer to "bulldozers" or "construction equipment" but not "Caterpillars".

    MD:IANAL

  • ||

    I hear there's also a black market in styrofoam. The stuff is light as a feather! And they pay you by the pound for it!

  • BakedPenguin||

    Some news special was asking North Korean children what their favorite North Korean movies were. I think the answers were "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story".

  • ||

    I saw that. I believe it was Diane Sawyer who asked that.

    The Norks thought it was a Japanese movie.

  • Mike||

    You know what's hilarious about this? North Korea has just banned almost all cash transactions in the country!

    story here:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/t.....940482.ece

  • Michael||

    I'm always at a complete loss for words whenever I hear about a country "revaluing" its currency. I can't help but wonder if Kim Jongzilla had his legs surgically shortened in order to stop banging his head on door frames.

  • Michael||

    I just finished reading the rest of that article.......Jesus Herbert Christ on a crutch.

    Wow.

  • Gene Berkman||

    There is an excellent documentary titled "Friends of Kim" up on Youtube in 8 parts. It follows a group of Europeans on a "Friendship Tour" of North Korea, and shows the truth slowly dawning on them.

  • ||

    And all of your snarky bastards are typing this on computers that are made in China.
    Made especially for you by political prisoner 1234355594-2.

  • ||

    Actually, no. Electronics assembly jobs are highly sought-after by Chinese workers. The convicts are doing jobs that are considerably lower on the food chain.

    -jcr

  • BakedPenguin||

    And yours is made where, claymore?

    In any event, I suspect they wouldn't have political prisoners in clean rooms, or working on items where sabotage could be 1) easily done, and 2) hard to track.

  • BakedPenguin||

    And I should probably look a little harder to see if my point has already been made. Stupid beer.

  • ||

    The only stupid beer is lite beer. claymore makes you stupid - not beer.

  • ||

    I tend to agree that trade with North Korea would be advantageous, but this is a little bit of an odd case in that there's no real comparative advantage (well sort of). The fact that the country is a politically isolated economic basket case is the basic selling point for selling kitschy Euro jeans.

    Obviously Sweden is a freeish country and all, so more power to them, but let's not overstate how much North Koreans are helped by over-hip Euros thinking the plight of North Korean people to be a cute fashion statement.

    8 year old Indian kids sowing soccer balls together accomplishes roughly as much. It has it's benefits and is over-demonized by many, but I still want to shower after I get done talking about it.

  • ||

    Not that I endorse the soccer ball labor (and the horrific practices often used) but there doesn't appear to be many alternative scenarios that produce more palatable results.

  • JB||

    W T F

    I thought I was against designer jeans before, but now I'm really against them.

  • Jacob, Noko Jeans||

    Hello all!

    Very interesting discussion, and good questions all around.

    Michael, as I'm sure you understand, talking to Reuters (or any news outlet, for that matter), not the full story, or quote, gets published. I'd love to talk more, either here or if you drop me an e-mail, jacob@nokojeans.com

    I thought I'd take the time to adress some of the questions posted here. As some of you've written, and we firmly belive, projects like this is a way to influence. Even though we work in a very "micro" context, we belive 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.

    You are (all) completely right, North Korea is a country where many atrocities happen, almost on a daily basis. I, and we, do, however, belive that it is better to do something, than nothing at all.

    Also, "designer jeans" are not our words :—) They are jeans, correct, but more vessels for our story than anything else. Also please note that this is still more of an experiment than anything else, 1100 pairs have been made, and if we would choose to expand, we'd obviously have to take many of the things you say into account even further; to find a way that truly gives back to the PEOPLE we work with, rather than the uniforms above them. And if that is impossible, I don't think this project will continue.

    As I said, any questions – don't hesitate to e-mail me!

  • Hacha Cha||

    Jacob, I can see why they were called designer jeans, with a price tag in excess of US$200! normal people don't pay that much for regular jeans. give back to the people of North Korea by making the jeans affordable so many can be sold and make sure the people who made them actually benefit.

  • The Gobbler||

    You are (all) completely right, North Korea is a country where many atrocities happen, almost on a daily basis. I, and we, do, however, belive that it is better to do something, than nothing at all.

    Fuck your bullshit altruism. You ain't fooling anyone. Oh, and what Sage said:

    http://reason.com/blog/2009/12.....nt_1475198

  • Hacha Cha||

    if the money was going to the people that did the work than this would be a good thing, more trade with the rest of the world will help bring down the totalitarian regime. but I wouldn't doubt that the profits are going to the government.

  • Jacob, Noko Jeans||

    Sorry for the wall of text, but is an important subject. :—)

    The Gobbler, thank you! It is however not an act and we have no intent to fool anyone; in that case I would probably have commented anonymously. I don't, and we really encourage all discussion this experiment – please note – has generated and hopefully will continue to, and in the long run may even turn to actually contemplating where your own clothes are made. I'm not talking specifically about you as I have no idea of how/if you are dressed, but the fact remains that ALOT of the world's clothes/fashion/designer whatever is being made under horrible conditions.

    Anyhoo, that is neither your nor Hacha Cha's point, so I will turn to that instead. Sadly, we can in no way guarantee the worker's wages or where the money end up in the long run. We try and have it written in our Code of Conduct, but the only things we can be completely sure of is that our production is being made under humane conditions, which is also why we were physically present during those ten days. The conditions thankfully were, and we documented almost every second of it.

    But it is an extremely valid point and something we work very hard with at the moment. The jeans are priced at that level because we need the money back to cover our expenses. As the interest is very high, we may even have money in surplus at the end. Our problem is to find a solution where the money doesn’t end up in the wrong place, and just goes to the regime (there are countless examples of people working with charity-projects who get played by corrupt politicans, and not just in NK)…. We WILL find a way to give something back in the right way, but at this point ANY input/suggestions is very much welcome.

    Had money been our main objective, we would not have put 2,5 years of unpaid effort into this, and certainly had made more than 1100 jeans.

    I know we are at the point of "I belive it's a good thing to establish real contact" versus "I don't", but I still felt the need to reply. Any further questions; shoot! I'll be coming back here, but the easiest way would be to e-mail me directly.

    All the best/

  • The Gobbler||

    Sadly, we can in no way guarantee the worker's wages or where the money end up in the long run. We try and have it written in our Code of Conduct, but the only things we can be completely sure of is that our production is being made under humane conditions, which is also why we were physically present during those ten days. The conditions thankfully were, and we documented almost every second of it.

    Wow! Ten whole days!

    Any further questions; shoot! I'll be coming back here, but the easiest way would be to e-mail me directly.

    Why would I want to communicate with your factory workers via a slave-holding interagent? I'll just communicate with them directly. To that end, please send me their email addresses. Thank you in advance. Oh, wait...

  • ||

    The whole enterprise, whether a move of naivete, self-serving "friendship", commerce or most probably, attempt at conceptual art is about as tasty as a jar of kimchi left out in the summer sun for several days...

  • ||

    Meanwhile, Moynihan has made his paradrop into North Korea, and was captured instantly.

    Hope you like coal mining Mike!

  • ||

    as a swede i can say that law prohibits the import of stuff made by slave labour ect. this is most likely an attempt to help and integrate north korea. however us swedes have a well deserved reputation for being naive so the three hipsters are probbably not very hard to decieve

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