Where are Korean models in the fashion industry?
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Where are Korean models in the fashion industry?
  • Jo Sung-min, Choi Hyeon-ji, Jeong Da-eun
  • 승인 2022.05.23 11:52
  • 수정 2022.05.23 16:16
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Online shopping and retail platforms in Koreamostly showcase white models.Photo provided by Lubava Trusova
Online shopping and retail platforms in Koreamostly showcase white models.Photo provided by Lubava Trusova

As the popularity of various online shopping and retail platforms has risen in the digital era, controversy has formed over the preference of white models to Korean ones within the Korean fashion industry.

 

Regarding whether the Korean fashion industry prefers white models, Kwak Jun-ho, a marketing manager at a Korean clothing brand EASTLOGUE, stated that he does not see a certain preference towards white models. The domestic fashion market, however, does prefer foreign models to Korean models, which Kwak explained is due to the difference in employment costs.

 

“Compared to domestic professional models, employing a foreign model is usually 20 to 30 percent cheaper,” Kwak said. “The fact that foreign models’ market price is cheaper is selfevident, and I believe that there are definitely brands affected by this.”

 

However, Kwak stated that the lower cost is not the only benefit of employing foreign models.

 

“Speaking as a member of the EASTLOGUE team, the first reason is that brands targeting overseas consumers use foreign models to naturally approach the market,” he said. “Secondly, the diversity of the domestic model pool is more limited than most consumers think. It is difficult for brands to employ a model with a mask that has previously represented another brand as a season model.”

 

Kwak also believes that the biggest advantage of employing foreign models is the direct booking system used by foreign agencies, which simplifies the process of choosing a model that fits well with the brand’s season concept.

 

Lubava Trusova, a Russian freelance model signed with Wave Agency in Seoul, also expressed her opinion on this issue.

 

Trusova’s main reason for modeling in Korea was financial, namely to help cover her tuition costs. She settled in Seoul in 2019 to pursue a master’s degree at Sogang University. As a nonfluent Korean speaker, finding reasonable jobs proved to be difficult.

 

“I mostly took part-time jobs at my university, but it was hard to find any work at all during my final semester,” she explained. “I began to think about ways to earn money which did not require advanced Korean skills.”

 

Trusova claimed that she found most of her work opportunities through Instagram direct message offers, despite having an agency. Her reasoning for this is that her targeted hashtags on her posts, such as #foreignmodel, attract employers who prefer white models to advertise their products.

 

Regarding the potential for more diversity within the Korean modeling industry, Trusova admitted that although gradual, there appears to be a positive change in the ethnic demographics of fashion.

 

“As time goes by, I can see and feel that diversity is increasing in the Korean modeling industry,” she said. “Cosmetics brands in particular try to employ models of different races to fit the ongoing trend to represent diversity and inclusion.”

 

However, Trusova felt that increasing diversity would be a slow and painful process for the Korean fashion industry.

 

“White models fit the criteria of Korean beauty standards, and hiring them is much cheaper than bringing in Korean celebrities,” she said. “I also feel as if the brands fear the potentially negative change of brand image once they stop using white models and instead opt for Korean or Asian models.”

 

To gauge the awareness of Ewha students, Ewha Voice conducted a survey of 82 students regarding this issue.

 

The result shows that 84 percent of the respondents were aware of the prevalence of white models in the Korean fashion industry. Also, 73 percent indicated that they have had difficulties purchasing clothes displayed by white models as they have different heights and body types from Asian models in general. Lastly, 90 percent of the respondents replied that they want to see more Asian models for Korean fashion brands.

 

One of the respondents, Park Ga-yeon, a communication and media graduate school student, stated her opinion with regard to this agenda.

 

Having a height of 174 cm, which is taller than that of the average Korean woman of 159 cm, Park revealed that she finds it more convenient to purchase clothes lately as brands are adopting a number of white models.

 

However, Park also revealed that she thinks the most commonly found white models are size zero, which is extremely thin.

 

“Increasing the number of tall models doesn’t necessarily mean that the consumers are given wider size selections for their clothes,” she said. “The size options of the clothes are still deficient in diversity.”

 

Park assumed that as the beauty standard has been set based on a white appearance, and as the purpose of employing models is to display the clothes in an aesthetic way, the brands are hiring more white models. She hopes to see more models of various sizes, regardless of their ethnicities.

 

Overall, the status quo of the Korean fashion industry needs to involve more Korean models, as the above-mentioned factors show its lack of diversity, especially preferring white models


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