Reversing a long-standing policy of not allowing quantities of used clothing to be brought into North Korea, customs officers working on the border with China have recently permitted travelers to bring in bundles of old clothes as long as these do not bear South Korean markings, sources in the region say.
North Korean travelers returning from China to the isolated, sanctions-hit state had avoided bringing in old clothes in recent years as the practice was deemed damaging to the country’s reputation, sources said.
“They did not even consider carrying old clothes into North Korea, as this wasn’t allowed,” one source said, speaking to RFA’s Korean Service from a Chinese city near the North Korean border.
“Now, North Korean travelers are looking for these clothes to bring in,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Clothing brought into North Korea must not be too badly worn or bear labels indicating manufacture in the country’s rival South Korea, though, a Chinese trader traveling frequently between China and Pyongyang told RFA.
“Jeans and women’s lingerie are also prohibited, as these are considered to promote a ‘delinquent look’ in their wearers and are subject to suppression,” he said.
Though travelers returning to North Korea are now allowed to bring used clothing into the country, no official order has been issued to this effect, so the reasons for the ban’s relaxation are still unclear, the source said.
Also speaking to RFA, a representative of a religious group providing humanitarian aid to residents of North Korea expressed surprise at the lifting of the ban.
“I have always wanted to collect clothes that were either almost new or in good condition being thrown away in South Korean apartment complexes, and send these to the North,” he said.
“But I couldn’t send them, because North Korea didn’t allow old clothes into the country.”
“In South Korea, even never-worn clothes are being thrown away if they are only slightly out of fashion,” a North Korean defector now living in the South said.
“Hearing that these clothes can now be collected, with the South Korean labels taken off, and sent to the people in my own country is great news,” he said.
Meanwhile, a source living in China’s Dandong city across the border from North Korea said that the lifting of the ban on old clothes is still so recent that “many Chinese traders doing business in North Korea still don’t know about it.”
“If this becomes more widely known, the number of peddlers doing business exclusively in old clothes will definitely increase.”
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Richard Finney.