Just months after opening, North Korea’s first-ever branded store has changed its name and removed all of the most visible signs of its Japanese-Chinese franchise heritage from its walls, sources told NK News.
North Korea’s sole outlet of the Miniso “lifestyle brand,” appears to have been completely renamed as part of a nine-day “refurbishment” closure in July.
“All the branding is gone (in the shop),” a source familiar with the changes told NK News on condition of anonymity. “In English, the new brand name translates to ‘Evolution’.”
“Above the cashier desk they have a different logo (now),” said another source, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
A picture obtained by NK News during the refurbishment period – which was notable given the fact that the branch launched in April – shows a different logo in place of the red Miniso shopping bag icon seen in prior photos of the main counter area.
Despite the name change, the first source said the outlet still looked like a Miniso store and that the stock still consisted of “Miniso products.”
Ma Jian, a spokesperson for the Japanese headquarters of Miniso, told NK News on Monday that Miniso Tokyo was unaware of the branding change.
“That’s new to us,” Ma said. “We are nothing to do with the Pyongyang store.”
Miniso Tokyo protested to its Chinese office about the opening of the Pyongyang shop after the story emerged in June, Ma said, adding that his office had requested the store be closed.
“The Chinese office promised to us that they will not ship out Miniso’s goods to Pyongyang again. They promised not to do business with Pyongyang,” Ma said. “So those goods (still) being sold in Pyongyang may be goods in stock.”
Notably, the new “Evolution” brand name appears to highlight a prior connection to Miniso, said Katsuhisa Furukawa, who previously served on the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on North Korean sanctions.
“There is a Tokyo-based company named as “Evolution” (and) the CEO’s uncle – according to information from the Japanese authorities – is reportedly Mr. Nan Chengyi, who appeared in the 18 January 2017 signing ceremony between DPRK and MINISO as the chief delegate of the DPRK Economic Cooperation Council’s Dandong Office in China.”
“While there is no evidence showing any capital relationship between the Japan-based ‘Evolution’ and the Pyongyang-based ‘Evolution’, there is at least a human connection.”
But while the connection could suggest a new form of joint venture, Furukawa said U.S. and Japanese interpretations of existing United Nations Security Council Resolutions were primarily interested in prohibiting financial institutions from operating or expanding services in North Korea, not operations in the retail sector.
“I do not understand why they are so generous toward the DPRK while they pretend to be strengthening the sanctions against the DPRK,” he said.
Andray Abrahamian, a senior advisor at Choson Exchange – which works to train and support North Korean entrepreneurs – described the name change as “a nice illustration of how a sanctioned economy forces things underground.”
“I’d bet it’s all the same products, but now just that more hidden from view and that tiny bit less integrated with how people consume in the region,” he said.
But for Tokyo, the news, however, appears welcome.
“We are annoyed at this North Korean matter,” Ma told NK News on Monday. “We are doing business with major countries such as the U.S. – compared to profits made in the rest of the world, profits made in North Korea are small.”
“Miniso China had better stop business with North Korea,” he said.
But whether Ma will ever be able to definitively know remains uncertain, however, given new rules in the Pyongyang store.
“No photos and no Japanese people (are now) allowed,” said the first source about new rules introduced after the store’s July 27 reopening.
Kosuke Takahashi contributed to this report from Japan
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Main picture: NK News
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