North Korea and capitalism: ‘Nike’ and ‘NikeNike’ a hit among North Koreans

Thursday 10th January, 2013
North Korea and capitalism? ‘Nike’ – a symbol of American capitalism – has come to the streets of North Korea.

North Koreans spend a lot of day outdoors, exposed to the sun. This is perhaps why the hat has become an essential part of everyday North Korean clothing. It helps keep the sun from one’s eyes as well as keeping the head cool – in other words, it helps North Koreans become more ‘effective workers’. In North Korean society, the functionality of the hat is stressed over its desirability as an item of fashion.

Recently, however, this has been changing. Many North Koreans are starting to regard the hat as an outlet of stylistic expression rather than as merely a utilitarian item. And this is not all – as can be seen in the following photos, hats with ‘Nike’ logos are being worn by ordinary North Koreans. Regardless of gender and age, Nike is in fashion.


north korea and capitalism

For a country with such an anti-American sentiment (at least in official rhetoric) this may appear to be a strange phenomenon. Why is ‘Nike’ so popular in North Korea?

After talking to several North Koreans who were visiting China, we happened upon a plausible answer. We happened to meet a North Korean man who was wearing a Nike hat and asked him why Nike was so popular among North Koreans, despite the fact it was American.

He replied, “What do you mean, American? It’s a Chinese brand!”

The answer was obvious. Almost certainly, he had purchased his Nike hat not through a legitimate outlet, but as one of many illegal products delivered through China. For an ordinary North Korean, there is no reason to doubt that the popular Nike brand is anything other than a Chinese brand.

As Nike is becoming more popular and supply runs short, ‘fake’ Nike hats can be seen on the streets too. In the below photo can be seen the ‘NikeNike’ hat.

North Korea and capitalism

Whether or not these hats have any connection with the American ‘Nike’, the popularity of the very American logo is an ironic fact for a country whose other most recognisable ‘fashion logo’ is the Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung portrait badge.




Reporting by Shin Jun-shik.
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