Kaesong items prove a hit in Seoul

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Kaesong items prove a hit in Seoul

Despite the fact that personal exchanges between North and South Koreans are rare, products made by North Korean laborers can easily be found here in the capital area.

Kaesong Joint Industrial Complex Cooperatives, which sells men’s clothing and textiles produced at industrial facilities in the North, opened a branch June 17 in Jongno District, central Seoul, with donations from 12 companies, at the inter-Korean venture park.

The joint industrial complex was established in 2004 in Kaesong, the most southern city in North Korea. Currently, 124 companies from South Korea run operations there, with 60 percent related to textiles.

The entrance to the new store is designed to appear like a rail road stop, with a sign to its right reading: “To the world, along the rail road.”

“It shows our dream to reach Europe by train with our products after unification,” said Lee Jong-deok, the store’s deputy chief director.

Products from the joint industrial complex can already be found in other stores in South Korea; however, the 12 companies reportedly decided to run their own shop in an attempt to dispel negative public opinions surrounding the industrial complex, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

“We designed the inside of the store with light white colors to do away with this unfavorable image around Kaesong,” said Je Jeong-oh, the operations director.

According to Je, the industrial complex is the only place where both Koreas can truly cooperate with each other, and despite the wage issue, the employees from the South and North employees are hospitable toward one another.

The store sells products without retail margin, with prices much cheaper than market value. A coat made of 100 percent cashmere, for instance, can be purchased for 299,000 won ($267) in the store.

When the JoongAng Ilbo inquired about a similar product at a department store, an employee there answered that the asking price would be at least 700,000 won.

“The quality of the fabrics is good, and most of all, the needlework on the products is perfect,” said one shopper, Sin Mi-yeong, 61. “I’m surprised by how low the prices are here.”

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo visited the store on opening day and reportedly purchased some clothing.

“I see it as a place where visitors can physically experience a sense of unification,” he said at the time.

And even with its fledgling status, the store already has regulars. Choe Beom-jin, who runs a supermarket next to the shop, remarked that he would only buy his clothes there from now on.

Meanwhile, the store’s management board has ambitious plans for its line: Products labeled with the store’s name will be on display during Hong Kong Fashion Week, which will run from Monday to Thursday.

Seven more branches are also set to open nationwide by year’s end.

“It takes 90 minutes by car to reach Kaesong from Seoul,” Je said. “It’s just sad we can’t make the trip, even if we wanted to. I hope the store serves as a starting point to unification.”

BY CHUN SU-JIN [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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