The lanky teen, whose father is Nigerian and mother Korean, is the country’s first Korean-African model. And in the world’s most homogenous country, known for its obsession with porcelain-white skin, Han sticks out for more than his 6 foot 2 (189 centimeters) height.
“People assume I’m a foreigner,” says Han, who speaks only Korean. “I’m used to it,” he says, although looks slightly uncomfortable when someone approaches to ask for a photo.
At Seoul’s recent Fashion Week, the 16-year-old appeared in about a dozen shows. In last fall’s Fashion Week, he represented 10 male fashion brands. His favorite designer, however, didn’t accept black models.
He’s been on the runway only since last year when the president of his current modeling agency spotted photos of him on Facebook and signed him right before the big shows. Since then, he has appeared on television and often is stopped on the street where fans ask to take selfies with him.
The lanky Han, who weighs 65 kilograms (143 pounds), has dreamed of becoming a model for most of his life. Long a store window shopper, he wanted to attend modeling school but didn’t have the money. So he practised his walk by watching YouTube videos and walking in high heels.
He says he appreciates the positive attention but “sometimes feel upset when Korean models backstage at a show don’t talk to me because they think I don’t understand Korean.” Others approach him speaking English, which he doesn’t understand.
Growing up, people would ask why he was black if he had a Korean mom. Otherwise, coming up mixed-race in the multicultural Itaewon section of Seoul, where there’s a contingent of African immigrants and other foreigners wasn’t that difficult, he says.
Now, he says, he realizes he’s breaking barriers for other biracial Koreans as many in the industry, but not all, are slowly accepting him.
For his part, Han has stayed positive. “I want to be a role model for [biracial Koreans,]” he says.
Credit: Monica Williams