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North Korean men wearing uniforms made from vinylon.

Vinylon, also known as Vinalon, is a synthetic fiber produced from polyvinyl alcohol, using anthracite and limestone as raw materials. Vinylon was first developed in Japan in 1939 by Ichiro Sakurada, Ri Sung Gi, and H. Kawakami.[1] Production of this fiber was delayed for World War II. The fiber was largely ignored in Korea until Ri defected to North Korea in 1950. Trial production began in 1954 and in 1961 the massive February 8 Vinylon Complex was built in Hamhung.[2] Vinylon's widespread usage in North Korea is often pointed to as an example of a success of the juche philosophy, and it is known as the juche fiber.[3]

Synthesis of vinylon.
Entrance of the February 8 Vinalon Factory Complex in Hungnam, North Korea.

While Hamhung remains a major production centre for vinylon; in 1998, a vinylon factory was opened up in South Pyongan.[4][5] In early 2010, Kim Jong-il himself attended a mass rally at the February 8 Vinylon Complex in Hamhung to celebrate its reopening after 16 years of inactivity. While Kim was often seen at political rallies or military parades, this was the first documented time he has ever attended an industrial mass rally, said an anonymous South Korean security official.[6] There is speculation that the Hamhung plant is manufacturing unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, a specialized rocket fuel that is used in North Korean long-range missiles.[7]

Vinylon has become the national fiber of North Korea and is used for the majority of textiles, outstripping fiber such as cotton or nylon, which are produced only in small amounts in North Korea. Other than clothing, it is also used for shoes, ropes, and quilt wadding.

Japanese-Canadian textile artist Toshiko MacAdam used vinylon in her early works, as it was more economical than nylon.[8]

Vinylon is resistant to heat and chemicals but has several disadvantages, being stiff, having a relatively high manufacturing cost, and being difficult to dye.[9]


  1. ^ Patent no. 147,958, February 20, 1941, Ichiro Sakurada, Yi Sung-ki [Lee. S. or Ri. Sung.Gi. and Hiroshi Kawakami, issued to Institute of Japan Chemical Fiber.
  2. ^ "Can North Korea sustain industrial growth?". The Korea Herald. 2010-08-18. Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  3. ^ Robinson, Michael E. (2007). Korea's Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 158–161. ISBN 9780824831745. 
  4. ^ "Vice Chairman Ri Byong Rim of Light Industry Commission". The People's Korea. 1998-02-12. 
  5. ^ "North and South Hamgyong Provinces". The People's Korea. 1999-02-03. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  6. ^ "Kim Jong-il Shows Up at Mass Rally". The Chosun Ilbo. 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  7. ^ "Remote Textile Plant May Secretly Fuel North Korea’s Weapons". The New York Times. 2017-09-27. Retrieved 2017-11-03. 
  8. ^ Quirk, Vanessa. "Meet the Artist Behind Those Amazing, Hand-Knitted Playgrounds". ArchDaily. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "'Vinalon', the North's proud invention". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 2012-08-11. 

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