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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A showroom exists in Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Department Store that is dedicated to selling furniture and homeware manufactured by Swedish furniture giant IKEA, NK News understands.
Items such as Rimforsa-line holders, chopping boards, table stands, and Vareira-line flatware trays could be seen in one photo of the showroom, while assembled IKEA tables, beds and cabinets could be seen in another.
“It’s a showcase area with a bedroom, kitchen, etc, laid out to show people how they too could live … (about)… the size of 3 or 4 rooms,” said Simon Cockerell, General Manager of Koryo Tours.
“For many people who would shop there it is still a bit aspirational that they could deck out their homes like that, but it is to give ideas and introduce concepts so I think it’s a good idea,” he said.
While IKEA products have been offered at the store for “years” according to Cockerell, a recent visitor told NK News on condition of anonymity that signage including the brand’s iconic logo was added in August.
IKEA, however, said they were not connected to the Pyongyang store.
“(This) is not an initiative from Inter IKEA Systems B.V. and the products are not sold under agreement with us,” said a spokesperson by email on Thursday. “There are no plans to expand into North Korea.”
But while the spokesperson added that third parties like the Kwangbok Department Store are “not allowed to use IKEA intellectual property,” it appears North Korean interest in the brand may originally stem from the highest office of political power there.
In Kim Jong Il’s final ever published speech – during the opening of the refurbished Kwangbok store in December 2011 – the late leader called for trade companies of the DPRK to improve and compete head-to-head with foreign firms.
“There is a range of furniture offered in the furniture area, but in this kind of Commerce Centre it would be good to sell the world-famous furniture of IKEA,” Kim Jong Il said.
“With a Commerce Centre in the Kwangbok Area, it’s time to quickly bring in the facilities to produce IKEA furniture,” he added.
“(This speech) says that Kim Jong Il knew about famous western furniture brands that are popular with middle-class people across the world, and wanted the Kwangbok Supermarket to be able to sell such furniture to Pyongyang residents,” said NK Pro analyst Peter Ward on Friday.
“It also implies that people in Pyongyang may have wanted IKEA furniture and knew what it was.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News