September 24, 2023

‘The sky was falling’: Why this company sold coats illegally made in North Korea

A Seoul clothing firm said it was duped into using DPRK labor and had no choice but to sell sanctions-violating garb

Baek Sung-hui’s hands are irreversibly disfigured from 40 years of manual labor. Now the head of a small South Korean clothing company, she remembers starting out as a teenage seamstress and later working through three pregnancies, with no break after giving birth.

“These days, even needles can’t penetrate my stiff fingers,” Baek said, caressing the glittering Christmas sweater that her company recently made. “I remember setting up a tent next to my newborn baby — to continue making clothes, to keep the business going.”