Top 10 Products Trending on the North Korean Market

Wednesday 8th February, 2017

#10 – USBs

In the past, most North Korean citizens watched South Korean soaps recorded on CDs, risking arrest by the North Korean government. However, smuggled CDs decreased in popularity as crackdowns increased in both number and severity. This is because hiding CDs from authorities was harder once inspections commenced. USBs, on the other hand, are easier to conceal, and are the main vehicle for circulating South Korean media content. Highly coveted items other than USBs include tablet PCs and notetels (portable media players).

#9 – Solar panels

Manufactured in China, North Koreans use solar power when electricity is scarce or unreliable. Solar panels come in handy in all aspects of everyday life in North Korea, from making rice, heating the home and supplying hot water.

#8 – Intimate wash

At current, North Korea does not produce hygiene products designed for women. As a result, many women suffer from yeast infections and other diseases in their nether regions. Intimate hygiene products, particularly products from South Korea, first entered the market through female foreign labourers returning from China, and smuggling has not stopped since.

#7 – Contraceptive devices

Unfortunately, most North Koreans are ill-informed when it comes to sex ed, leading to exposure to sexual transmitted infections. Contraceptive devices of all kinds are most popular amongst the military, who are most sexually active. This is because impregnating a woman can lead to interruptions in their military service. Most contraceptive devices are imported wholesale from China for military use, but are also available on the informal market, and are popular amongst young lovers.

#6 – Rain boots

Last year’s heavy rainfall took a toll on North Korean residents, and since July 2016, the demand for rain boots spiked dramatically. Locally manufactured boots are made of a stiff material which makes it uncomfortable to wear for long behinds of time. However, South Korean rain boots smuggled in from China are well-insulated, softer and more durable – they can be worn for over five years. For North Koreans, South Korean rain boots are considered suitable for wearing not only during monsoon season, but on any rainy day.

#5 Greenhouses

Due to the relatively colder North Korean climate, it is not possible to produce vegetables all year round. State-run greenhouses are few and far between, so vegetables become scarce during winter and early spring. However, ordinary citizens have begun planting their own crops in Chinese-imported greenhouses made of plastic, where vegetables such as cucumbers, chillies, and eggplants can be cultivated. An increase in the number of greenhouses is most recently evident in agricultural regions.

#4 Snow chains

The average temperature in the North Korean winter falls to below 20 degrees Celcius, signified by the freezing cold and heavy snowfall. Consequently, motor accidents on slippery roads occur most frequently at this time. To avoid such incidents, North Korean drivers install snow chains beforehand. Imported snow chains are most popular, even though they are over ten times the price of locally manufactured snow chains. Still, it is believed that these prices are more than appropriate, as imported chains are believed to be better quality.

#3 – South Korean beauty products

In North Korea, the end of February is a popular time for weddings. South Korean beauty products are now an essential wedding gift. Of course, North Korea does manufacture its own cosmetics. However, it is believed to be of comparatively lower quality than South Korean products.

#2 – Stockings

Political events happen in all four seasons in North Korea, which mean that women end up wearing skirts even in the winter cold. Stockings have thus become a wardrobe stable, referred to as ‘long socks’ or ‘footed leggings’. The stocking business thrives on days leading up to any national event, especially those imported from China. It is said that imported stockings have better compression than locally manufactured stockings, making legs look more attractive.

And finally, the number one item on the North Korean market:

#1 – Smartphone cases

North Korea is also undergoing a smartphone boom. As smartphone users increase, so too does the diversity in phone case designs. The case shown on the screen is a locally-made phone case sold at Sunan Airport in Pyongyang. Cases coming in bright colours and cases designed like wallets are also bestselling items.


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