Department store cancels sale of Swedish jeans made in N.Korea
Sun, Dec 06, 2009

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - A Swedish department store on Saturday cancelled what was to be the sale of the "first ever" brand of jeans made in North Korea, the Swedish company behind the communist-made dark denims said.

"Apparently PUB has censored our exhibition/store by shutting it down and 'confiscating' the jeans because of the 'working conditions in North Korea'," Jakob Ohlsson of company Noko Jeans told AFP in an email.

"At first i thought it was a joke but everything has been removed from the store," he added.

Ohlsson, along with Jacob Aastroem and Tor Rauden Kaellstigen -- all under the age of 25 and with no previous experience in business or fashion -- started Noko Jeans in mid-2007, prompted by a desire to enter in contact with isolationist North Korea.

Their designer jeans were to be sold starting Saturday at Aplace, a boutique that is a tenant of the trendy PUB department store in central Stockholm.

"A half-hour before opening, we got a call from the head of the department store and he explained to me... that PUB cannot sell the Noko Jeans," Kalle Tollmar, the founder and CEO of Aplace told AFP.

"The explanation I got was that (the store's management) had taken the decision... that PUB is not the right place, or platform, for this kind of political discussion," he said, confirming his store was hoping to continue distribution of the controversial duds at another location.

The Noko sales space at PUB was deserted on Saturday, the jeans removed and and surrounding photo exhibition taken down by the department store's security.

"They have it in a locked room at PUB but we have been promised to get everything back on Monday, it's only for security reasons, they don't want us to sell the jeans," Tollmar said.

Noko Jeans referred to their sales space as a "museum, because our experiment is much more a story... of how this happened, what happened and about some of the people we met and came to love in North Korea" than just a pair of jeans, Jacob Aastroem told AFP.

"We think its really really sad, because we back up Noko jeans by 100 percent," Aplace's head buyer Dan Jaget told AFP from the store, adding his boutique had started selling the jeans online.

The 'made in North Korea' designer denims have garnered much media attention and customers flocked to PUB on Saturday to get their hands on the jeans, which retail for around 1,500 Swedish kronor (150 euros, 226 dollars) a pair.

Jaget claimed at least 15 customers showed up during the normally quiet morning hours to buy the denims, which are black, because North Koreans "usually associate blue jeans with America," making them "a little bit taboo," according to Noko Jean's Ohlsson.

Noko Jeans says the assembly of the pants -- the cut, the make and trim -- is all done in North Korea.

It hopes to change things in the country, often criticised for its poor human rights record, by producing jeans there.

The communist state, all but cut off from foreign influence for the past 60 years, "has been isolated for so long and ethically, we thought that any sort of increased contact with the outside world would be good," Ohlsson said. "I sincerely hope (PUB) will remove everything labelled 'made in China' as well," he said Saturday.

The entrepreneurs, who have visited North Korea twice, claim the working conditions at their Pyongyang-area factory are better than those of a previously visited Chinese plant.

"When we arrived in North Korea in 2008, we expected worse but were rather happily surprised to see a clean factory, lots of space," Noko Jeans said, adding it stayed in North Korea for 10 days to control the application of a business code of conduct based on European standards.

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