A few years ago, Pyongyang started talking about light industry and producing more consumer products. Now, we're seeing them.
Somewhat surprisingly, the very first major event held in Pyongyang post-Kim Jong Il was a "Light Industry First" event, extolling the need to improve people's quality of life. This took place just two days after Kim's funeral, red flags leaping out from the snowy background.
A little over a year later, in March 2013, Party Secretary Kim Jong Un convened the nation’s first light industry convention in over 10 years. Among the traditional and general calls for passion and innovation, he also criticized a “preference for imports” and said “It is very important to develop the local industry for boosting the production of consumer goods." This policy line has been echoed since.
This followed on from a two to three year period where the media and slogans sought to promote the idea of making export quality goods and send them out "to the world!". The campaign was based in large part around CNC technology, which has largely been a non-starter due to the producer being under sanctions. More broadly, though, it was a push towards idea that companies should be earning hard currency and that the DPRK was a manufacturing and industrial player again.
The following year, the Ministry of Light Industry was merged with the Ministry of Food and Consumer Goods Industries in an apparent attempt to consolidate and harmonize functions between the two.
And indeed, it was around 2014 that we began to see the fruits of this focus. More and more Korean brands of processed food, household products as well as clothing and other consumer goods started to show up on shelves.
Not only that, but the Bank of (the other) Korea estimates that Bank of Korea guesses that textile exports increased 24.7% from 2013 to 2014.
So clearly, the DPRK is producing more textile goods that can satisfy needs abroad. An interesting question will be: can local brands begin to supplant the foreign ones that Kim Jong Un lamented as being "too popular"?
It certainly isn't unique for consumers in developing countries to equate imported with high-quality and it can be hard for local brands to counteract this perception. We'll be keeping our eye on whether some of the newer brands begin bringing out premium brands or higher-end versions of their products.
For now, we'll highlight some of the consumer goods we see around Pyongyang in a couple upcoming blogposts.