Hands That Make Your brands are North Korean


Everything you buy, from cars to candies – leaves you comforted, disgusted or threatened by that fact that the Chinese have gotten their names on it. Like the rest of the world, I often cringe when I see this,  for that is when the certainty of the Chinese world dominance dawns on me.

Yes? Yes. And NO.

I got me confused as well. Why? Because the Chinese are well on their way to stamping every rock on earth and NO, because not all “Made in China” labels mean they are actually made in China. Got you there, didn’t I?

I do not know what kind of double games the Chinese play – double games or outsourcing hide and seek, but it is a fact known to few that Chinese get some (or most) of their goods, made in North Korea.

I cannot answer why this is so or why the products do not carry a ‘made in DPRK’ label – but I can make an intelligent guess. Actually, several intelligent guesses – one of them being that the world may not take kindly to the Chinese ‘re outsourcing’ garment manufacturing to a rogue country known to use the whip to make their underpaid or unpaid workforce churn the goods. I have cringed and refused buy products made in Vietnam and Bangladesh when the story of the underpaid workers came to light. I am not sure if I would wear a t-shirt if I knew a malnourished North Korean sat through a humid day to produce it.

The current situation in DPRK is grim – there is no electricity to run factories since the Russians stopped providing cheap fuel to run them and the Chinese dont just pump in money for the sake of communist ‘brotherhood’ leaving DPRK hard pressed for cash to run their economy.

But China does ‘help’ out. It ‘provides’ electricity to run or set up certain factories which in turn employs workers at minimum wages (North Korea follows a system of compulsory employment) who slave for long hours and then some, to mass produce goods such as these below, which are then packed, labeled and send straight back to China to be distributed throughout the world. China profits because they do not pay much to the locals, not even half as much as they would pay their own people and North Korea is happy that their factories are rolling and people are employed somehow.

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Workers hard at work at the Pyongsong Taedonggang Clothing Factory

I know this because when I visited this country.

As part of our tour, we were taken to Pyongsong Taedonggang clothing Factory which was mass producing winter clothes for a very popular brand – RIP CURL. The three floors of a large factory building was working full swing, with women in uniforms, bent over the machines under slow rotating fans, reducing yards of material into jackets and pants, expertly sowing, stitching together what would later sell for quite a sum in the western market.

Pyongsong Taedonggang Clothing Factory

This system works, there is nothing wrong with outsourcing work to a poorer country – but it is rather disturbing when you know the real story of the workers in the factory. The DPRK has what is called the ‘compulsory’ work routine, 6 days a week and “forced, voluntary work for the supposed day off.”


The workers are paid very little and often as food coupons to be en-cashed at govt run stores for rice and corn and very little cash comes to them.

And yet to the world they do not exist. They cannot take pride in their work, they cannot say with pride  – hey, you who wear the brand – guess who made them? Us, Koreans.

Pyongsong Taedonggang Clothing Factory


Pyongsong Taedonggang Clothing Factory

Pyongsong Taedonggang Clothing Factory

The said clothing factory has been making garments for export since 1970’s  – first they made work clothes for Russia and later in the 1980′s it specialized in making uniforms to export to Vietnam. From the 1990’s it was used to produce baby clothes for a Japanese clothing company. It currently makes RIPCURL.

Except that none of the RIPCURL clothes say “Made in DPRK”.

And for a fact, I will never ever buy RIPCURL again – call me whatever you like. And oh! Rip Curl is an Australian brand. Do the math.


  1. Anju, now you have moved in to Commerce Journalism – Well written.

  2. Anjaly, though we make it a point to avoid Chinese products, it is getting next to impossible. The market is flooded with them. Even when we got our house painted… we found out later that it was a Chinese product. We had to redo the whole thing for the lead content was too much. Overcoming this is a challenge. Well written!

  3. I agree, how much ever we want to avoid Chinese products, its just not possible. Rip curl is just 1 of the companies, you never know what all is being manufactured in N. Korea under the name of “Made in China”. Honestly after hearing the stories about it and reading your article i really feel bad for the Locals there.

  4. Is it true that designers in South Korea get their clothes manufactured in China ? And that is the reason why buying clothes in wholesale is cheaper in China over South Korea ?

    • Wouldnt be sure of South Korea, but for sure China has some stuff made in DPRK -something which I have seen personally – this brand called Ripcurl being made in a factory in Pyongsung.

  5. Hey nice work. Couldn’t imagine that is possible. Well written. Congrates!!

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