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North Korean authorities have allegedly moved to ban residents wearing leather trench coats, saying it is disrespectful to emulate the fashion choices of the country's leader.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), a U.S.-government-funded private non-profit news service, reported the story on Wednesday, citing North Korean sources. Although leather jackets have been seen in Korean films since at least the early 2000s, Kim first appeared on television wearing a leather trench coat in 2019. They have been popular in the country ever since, sources told RFA.
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Initially, real leather coats were imported from China and were bought by North Korea's elite, before coat makers imported fake leather and manufactured them domestically at a cut price.
Leather coats are extremely expensive in the hermit kingdom. Real leather coats cost about 170,000 won ($34), and about 80,000 won for fake leather, according to RFA. Those prices compare to the average North Korean monthly salary in 2018 being around 4,000 won.
A later TV appearance by Kim in a leather trench coat in January popularized the leather with women, a new demographic, a resident of the city of Pyongsong in the South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA anonymously.
"During the military parade at the 8th Partyin January of this year, the Highest Dignity [Kim Jong Un] and all the high-ranking officials were shown wearing leather coats also," the source said.
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According to the source, the other leather-clad officials includedand several other influential women.
The source said that since the coats were recognized as a "symbol of power," in September, private clothing merchants asked trading company officials to import synthetic leather.
"They copied the design of the leather coats worn by the Highest Dignity and the officials and now they are being sold in the marketplace," the source said.
The person added that police in Pyongsong recently started confiscating the coats from sellers and those wearing them in public.
"Young men protest, saying they bought the coats with their own money and there is no reason to take them away," said the source.
"The police respond to the complaints, saying that wearing clothes designed to look like the Highest Dignity's is an 'impure trend to challenge the authority of the Highest Dignity.' They instructed the public not to wear leather coats, because it is part of the party's directive to decide who can wear them," the person said.
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"When these leather coats became popular, the law enforcement authorities went after the companies that made the coats that look too much like the Highest Dignity's. They also go after people wearing them in public," a second source said.
The person added that rich entrepreneurs can import the fabric for the fake leather coats by placing an order with "state-run trading companies who have partially resumed maritime smuggling."
Although North Korea and China officially stopped trading at the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020, covert trade by state-run firms of items—some of which are U.S. and U.N. sanctioned—partially resumed in April, RFA reported.
North Korea imported various fabrics from China, including dozens of meters of synthetic leather this November, according to a Chinese customs document seen by the news outlet.
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