A Study on the Apparel Industry and the Clothing Culture of North Korea

북한(北韓)의 의류산업(衣類産業)과 의생활문화(衣生活文化) 연구(硏究)

  • Cho, Kyu-Hwa (Dept. of Clothing & Textiles, Ewha Womans University)
  • 조규화 (이화여자대학교 의류직물학과)
  • Published : 2001.12.30


The purpose of this study was to understand and improve the clothing habits and the apparel industry of North Korea in preparation for the reunification of South and North Korea. For this study, literary data, reports, periodicals, interviews and internet data of the two Koreas were reviewed. North Korean clothing habits used to be monotonous and uniform but nowadays people's clothes have become somewhat brighter in color and more diverse in design than before. In particular, liberal and individual dressing habits appeared among the privileged classes. When taking part in national events, women have to wear the traditional Korean costume, Hanbok, while men wear business suits for formal wear. In general, men don't wear Hanbok. Students have to be in uniforms but blue jeans, T-shirts with English logos were popular among them reflecting their sensitivity and openness towards western cultures. The brides usually wear pink Hanboks and the bridegrooms wear black business suits for their wedding. North Koreans also wear Hanbok on national holidays like South Koreans. Clothing is the most important item in the trade of process commission between North and South Korea. Trading items are mid to low end men's clothing for the most part due to less emphasis on fashion in the North. The processing is indirect trade and composed of sample making and contracting, sending out materials and production, carrying in goods and setting accounts. To activate South-North trade, establishment of infrastructure, stabilization of shipping, reducing high costs of distribution, building direct communication system by setting up office in a neutral zone and simplifying procedures in applying for the South and North Korea Economic Cooperation Fund. On the other hand, clothing and textiles education is carried on at art colleges, light industries colleges and commercial colleges in Pyongyang. Clothing institutes which study Hanbok and Western clothes, are installed in each city and province. Graduates who majored in clothing and textiles are posted in institutes or apparel factories. Their job is designing, patternmaking and sewing for their customers. Most of them are women and in good state of economic conditions. The North Korean clothing industry has been the core national industry that has developed based on overseas demand form the mid 1980s. The standard is that of South Korea in the early 1980s. In 1999, trade of North Korean textile products with trade counterparts such as Japan and China was $1.3 million in exports and $1.27 in imports. Of this amount the export takes up 25.4% of the total exports in North Korea. However, fundamentally even in sectors that are irrelevant to politics such as the fashion clothing industry, trust between the South and North should be a prerequisite. Only through this can exchange between North and South and economic cooperation contribute towards the reunification.