Millions of dollars in sales of North Korean false eyelashes — marketed in beauty stores around the world as "made in China" — helped drive a recovery in the secretive state's exports last year.

The processing and packaging of North Korean false eyelashes — openly conducted in neighboring China, the country's largest trading partner — gives Kim Jong Un's regime a way to skirt international sanctions, providing a vital source of foreign currency.

Reuters spoke to 20 people — including 15 in the eyelash industry, as well as trade lawyers and experts on North Korea's economy — who described a system in which China-based firms import semi-finished products from North Korea, which are then completed and packaged as Chinese.