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Just Say No To NoKo

Updated on March 29, 2010
NoKo Jeans Made in North Korea
NoKo Jeans Made in North Korea

Americans do love their jeans

Neil Diamond once sang that money was great, but if he couldn't have a woman, he'd rather stay in blue jeans forever. Money or not, or even woman or not, Americans love their jeans as much as perhaps they love hot apple pie, or tossing around a Frisbee on the beach on a hot summer day. And when you think of it, blue jeans really are as American as things come. Levi Strauss of course invented them sometime around 1853—though at first he thought the material would be used to make tents and wagon covers, not pants.

Levi's are of course not made in America anymore. But then, neither are other popular jeans brands like L.L. Bean or the GAP. Even a company like FUBU, that also has a line of jeans, which claimed to have started up primarily because they saw companies like Nike making profits from New York street fashion, yet giving little back to the community, has most of its products made overseas as well. You'd think that part of that 'giving back to the community,' especially in the urban community in which FUBU sought to target specifically at its inception, would include some good paying manufacturing jobs many people in the inner cities badly need.

The reality is that, these days, finding anything that's made in America is sort of like playing that Where's Waldo game. You know that American made products are out there, but you've really got to do some searching in order to find them. Interestingly, like the colors on the American flag, the elusive Waldo's colors are also red, white and blue.

When most of us shop we look at price. We look at the name on the label. We hardly ever stop to take a look at where something is made.

Who's making our stuff?

What's troubling is that the majority of these items are made in countries who are not friendly to us. Immediately I can think of China, of course—I mean, they're not exactly unfriendly, but let's face it. Our relationship with China is really just a house of cards. I strongly suspect that if things really got down to the brass tacks, and the Chinese had to choose, they would all but spit on us in a flash.

Beyond China, we buy oil from guys like Hugo Chavez and those other folks over in the Middle East who invariably hate our guts. And recently I've been noticing more and more items that are made in Pakistan. True, Pakistan may be considered one of our allys, but that relationship too is but a house of cards.

Now, a Swedish firm started in 2007 by Tor Rauden Kallstigen, along with his associates Jacob Astrom and Jakob Ohlsson are making a line of designer jeans in North Korea, of all places. The company is called NoKo. Granted, labor is cheap there, and it's a largely untapped market and I understand that bodes well for a start-up company like Swedish NoKo Jeans.

Still, we have to keep in mind that North Korea is a very dangerous place. It's as communist as a country can be. The country is also easily one of the most isolated places in the world. The government, led by crazy dictator, Kim Jong Il, controls nearly every aspect of its citizen's lives. Top that off with a long list of very troubling human rights issues, and direct threats aimed at the United States in particular...

Quite honestly, North Korea makes China look downright paradisial by all accounts.

With good intentions, still...

The question comes to mind, why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to do business with a country like this even if the labor is cheap? It's true the Swedes aren't doing a lot of business here in the U.S. with their NoKo jeans, and to be fair NoKo has had some difficulty with some American retail chains because of where they are made. But NoKo is not the only company with interests in North Korea. And now that doors that were once tightly closed are slowly beginning to open, it's possible that even American companies might eventually have an interest in taking a closer look at North Korea as a viable place to obtain cheap labor if the idea of doing business there begins to lose some of its stigma.

According to the three Swedish entrepeneurs, who are among a handful of foreign manufacturers in North Korea, they have this idea that by opening up trade between other countries with North Korea, and certainly with the U.S., it might help to quell ages-old tensions. Better trade lines could begin the process of gnawing away at the country's deep isolation. For the most part I can agree with that way of thinking. In many ways it does make sense to me. Certainly North Koreans could enjoy more prosperity and freedom with access to jobs. The country could expand its GDP beyond just the military.

But so long as the country is communist, and so long as the government therefore has full control over the expansion of the economy and outside influences, no foreign business, heedless of their best intentions, can truly help the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea—North Korea's official name—to lift themselves up into a better life. Supporting products made in North Korea will not help the citizens of that country. The money will go directly into the government coiffures, and invariably help to build North Korea's military presense stronger, thereby increasing Kim Jon Il's control over the people, as well as the threat to neighboring nations like China, Russia, and South Korea.

Beyond North Korea, America needs a change in attitude

That notwithstanding, the bottom line is that it's not just about NoKo, really. It's not just about our jeans. It's not just about our relationship with the North Korean's, or any other country for that matter. It's about American manufacturing, and it's about American jobs, and it's about American's being very aware that saying no to NoKo is just one piece of the whole pie.

Right now Americans are suffering the worst economic recession in history, and certainly the worst unemployment and economic hardship since the Great Depression during the 1930's. The fact is that Americans need jobs. Not only do Americans need jobs, they need well benefited, good paying jobs. Mostly those kinds of jobs come from the manufacturing sector. That's been true for a very long time. The average annual earnings for factory workers are around $54,000.

Granted, when we're talking about jeans, we're talking about the textile industry, never known to necessarily be among the higher paying manufacturing jobs. Those are more related to heavy industrial. Still, many textile mills offer fair wages and benefits that you can support a family on.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, it is estimated that there were still around 500,000 people employed by textile mills across the states. Cut and sew apparel manufacturing dominates the industry with the most employees, accounting for nearly 200,000 of all textile jobs in the U.S. The industry has experienced a small, but needed boost due to laws that require American military and Transportation Security Administration officers uniforms to all be made in America.

Perhaps this law should be extended to include, as well, the uniforms of our police officers and firefighters. There's no reason an American flag should not be required to be produced here as well, but that's for another day.

In the meantime I say we just say no to NoKo, and yes to American made whenever we can.


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    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Wisconsin

      Julian, I actually disagree. I've been gradually increasing the number of products I buy that are American made; my grill is a Huntington, the grill cover was made in the US, performs well, and was cheaper than the Chinese made counterpart, my water heater is American made, I've been buying American made cookware which is way outperforming Chinese or other country made cookware, I'm wearing New Balance made in America which are comfortable, affordable, and just as good as anything China makes...I could go on. I would only add that back in the day American made products outlasted anything China, Japan, or any other country ever produced, or has produced to date. You show me a Sony TV that lasted longer a Curtis doesn't exist. Just one tiny example, but worth pointing out. Not even American made products are made as good as they once were, but I think it's a misnomer that American made means less quality at a higher price. You are misguided.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Fact is, American market is not competitive, and the quality of some American things such as cars, machinery and tools is no different and at a few times is actually poorer than in other countries. You can get very high quality products, as good as American-made ones, for a significantly smaller price that are made in Asia, or ultra-high quality, top-tier European made products.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Interestingly enough, should you have any interest in buying American made jeans, you can check out All American Clothing. Their website is accessible jumbling the three words together and adding dot com. Worth checking out, and every pair of jeans you buy saves an American job. Thanks for stopping by.

    • twentyfive profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh I'm so outdated I never heard of Noko LOL Thanks for this hub :) At least I know now it's from North Korea

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      My biggest issue with the corporate execs today is that they are "paid talent," as the argument goes. We pay them lots of money because, apparently, they are very skilled at making money. The reality is, in my view, that this really isn't the case anymore. There really isn't any streamlining going on. There's no real innovation in business practice going on. What these guys are doing is simply moving money around. They are taking it from the bottom and moving it around to the top. Simple as that. If they can undercut the employees, or hire illegals as you suggest, and which IS happening, then they can save money on labor. But it's not creative. It's not genious. It's a no-brainer, and they are being touted as great men with great business sense worth millions. I don't see it.

      As for who owns what. I think it stands to reason for me that investors invest. Investors from Britain have an interest here, we've got interests there. We're building a lot and investing a lot in China, for example. Who invests what, where, to me is not as important as what it ultimately provides to the U.S. economy and to the U.S. in the way of jobs and other opportunities.

      AS FAR AS illegals go, however, I think this is a serious enough issue that we ought to strictly enforce laws already on the books on this matter, and impose deep and serious fines to any company who hires someone who is not legally in this country. What you have to do to get the attention of business is make it cost more. If you want to make a comparison, I'd call it a tariff on imported labor. Just like we impose a tariff on imported goods to close the gap between the lower costs associated with production in other countries to help U.S. companies compete, a steep fine would say basically, "if you get caught, you will pay what you would have paid in legal American labor, and then some."

      So long as we let these guys get away with doing exactly what they are doing, they'll go on doing it.

    • profile image

      Betsy Ross 

      8 years ago

      Oursourcing is a huge problem. But so is also insourcing. Most of the work post Katrina is being done by the illegals in New Orleans and Baton Rouge after Gustav. If these corporate giants have enough monies to build sports stadiums and such, just what is the excuse then for outsourcing other than that they are not "taxed" on that foreign labor and the entire problem is that in not followning the Constitution and taxing domestic labor and not foreign labor, has gotten us to where we are with these corporate and global giants preferring to oursource.

      And it is the Brits actually behind it all, since they own our Fed and most of the labor pool that is oursourced is from India (a former member of the Empire) and also China (with an abundance of poor there that the Brits want to tax for the World Bank and their profit).

      So this "alliance" with Britain is what is costing this country both jobs, and their very lives since the war in the Middle East is also over oil for the Brits most of all who lost those leases when the Shah of Iran was overthrown in the '70's.

      Wake up, people, the Brits OWN this country lock, stock and barrel through the Fed. Hence AIG (London based), BP and now RedFlex (Australian, cousin to the Brits).

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      I prefer buying "made in the USA," too, but sometimes items are difficult to find. Great hub!!

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Same problem here in Australia.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I can't disagree with a single point you made Gus. I keep saying Americans can very much have a say in the way we do business, in the place where products are made, if we just set aside, for a moment, convenience, and do what's right. It's hard to break habits, I admit. It's hard to find American made goods. It's hard to say no to something we need that is not made here. But if we continue on this path we're only hurting ourselves in the end. Just like we pass on to the next generation the legacy of our debt in the government, we pass on the legacy of the choices we make today that will ultimately shape the world we leave behind.

      Glad to see you.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      8 years ago from USA

      Springboard - You are the MAN. There can be nothing at all made in North Korea that is worth having. Things made in some other countries produce questions as to worthiness. The products may be OK, but the countries are likely not our friends. My suggestion would be that if a person bought NoKo jeans that they return them for a refund to the store where they bought them. Storekeepers would never order another NoKo jean if everyone would do that. (Sorry about that, Swedes, but you yo-yos helped yourselves by helping Adolph Hitler back in the late 30s and into the 40s. Your country was then not much better than is N. Korea today IMO)

      Gus :-O

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      I've been preaching buy American since back when it was still possible.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Tom, you are the man. I will definitely check this out further and thanks for sharing. I'm going to edit in a link to it BTW as well.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Here's a whole website for you.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Your realization reminds me a joke I heard recently.

      In this case it might go something like, "I am working on a Toshiba computer (Japan), answering my Panasonic phone (Malaysia), sitting on my desk chair (China) at my glass desk (Sweden), wearing a quartz watch (movement from China), clothing (Pakistan and New Zealand), shoes (Brazil) wondering where in the hell I put my unemployment check I need to take to the bank?"

      It's difficult to change habits, and even more difficult to even find American made. You might say, "well, industry is the past. We're a service economy now..."

      The sad truth is that we're outsourcing those service jobs now too. A lot of them are in India taking our customer service calls. When is enough going to be enough I wonder? And will we have to hit rock bottom in America before we really get it? Even then it might be too late by then.

      It's a doomsday scenario to be sure, but still...

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Springboard - this is a highly compelling article about a very real problem that is not going to be solved in very short order.

      Why? Because Americans like myself have to change our mindsets about where we purchase goods.

      I say that because I realized I am working on a Toshiba computer (Japan), answering my Panasonic phone (Malaysia), sitting on my desk chair (China) at my glass desk (Sweden), wearing a quartz watch (movement from China), clothing (Pakistan and New Zealand), shoes (Brazil) - I could go on and on.

      I vow to pay more attention in the future regarding the countries of origin of articles that I buy.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      You'd think so. :)

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      8 years ago

      I agree that buying from North Korea won't help the people there at all, the money will all go towards nuclear wweapons. And if we can figure it out, Sweden and others certainly can.

    • Springboard profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Well, we do still make SOME stuff in America. But like I said, it's just a lot harder to FIND goods made here these days. :) I've been trying to make it more of a habit to look for Made in USA stuff whenever I can. Sometimes stuff made here does, admittedly, cost a bit more, but in the end I think it's a premium definitely worth paying.

      It's not really rocket science to suggest that Americans in American jobs earn American dollars that get respent in American commerce, and when the economy is in a hurt like it is now, that bodes well for everyone. It keeps the circle complete. Every dollar paid in America that was earned in America, is doubly good for the value of each dollar.

      And hey, if the demand for American made goods is improved by a buying attitude that favors it, American companies will have every incentive to start bringing more of those jobs that were sent overseas back home. But it does take a collective attitude. Every American has to be aware that they're livelihoods really are tied into the goods they buy one way or another.

      As for those who might argue for a global economy being better, I say that's all fine and good when those other countries who take our jobs also buy our goods. Unfortunately, that's largely not been the case as is suggested by huge trade deficits.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub. The problem with buying American is that we don't make anything anymore. How horrible!

    • kowality profile image


      8 years ago from Everywhere

      Hey there Jim. I Had to see what you were up to. I agree, we need to buy American. Good stuff.


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