South Korean cosmetics firm 5149 sparked controversy after launching beauty masks packaged with Kim Jong-un’s face and propaganda-style slogans.
According to the company, it has sold more than 25,000 “Unification Moisture Nuclear Masks” since June, with each priced 4,000 won (about $4).
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The “nuke” masks claim to contain moisturizing water from Mount Paektu, the active volcano on the China-North Korea border where Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in posed at the end of their three-day summit in September.
In Korean mythology, the sacred volcano is said to be the birthplace of Dangun, founder of the first Korean dynasty more than 4,000 years ago.
The masks feature both stern and smiling faces of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, manipulated to look like he is using the product himself.
It also contains slogans such as “All hail moisture for all women of the North and South!” and “Paekdu Mountain spring water makes skin strong!”
The frenzy comes as surprise considering that it is illegal under South Korean law to speak favorably of the North Korean government since 1948.
While rarely enforced, it forbids “praising, inciting or propagating the activities of an anti-government organisation.”
Despite selling like hotcakes, the masks have equally drawn an uproar that left some stores pulling them from their shelves.
“Personally, I don’t like merchandise promoting a certain political agenda,” Irene Kim, a South Korean skincare expert, told the South China Morning Post. “A few years ago, North Korea was the largest threat to our country… Kim Jong-un was seen as a dictator and a tyrant who would stop at nothing to disrupt world peace, now he’s become the face of a popular face mask.”
In defense of the masks, 5149 CEO Kwak Hyeon-ju said that she wanted them to celebrate the “once in a lifetime” inter-Korean summits that took place this year.
“I don’t know what Kim Jong-un means in North Korea or what he represents politically, but the whole country of South Korea was happy,” Kwak told The New York Times. “I wanted to pat Kim Jong-un’s shoulder for coming.”
With stores beginning to halt sales, it’s unclear if 5149 will continue producing the controversial masks. Still, customers have been sharing pictures of themselves using the product on social media.