Teenage model Han Hyun-Min’s long legs have made him a rising star on South Korean catwalks, but his agent knew there would be a problem in the ethnically homogenous country because he is half black.
16-year-old has a Nigerian father in a society where racial discrimination is widespread and people of mixed race are commonly referred to as “mongrels”.
“A dark-skinned fashion model like Han was unheard of in South Korea, so recruiting him was a big gamble,” said his agent Youn Bum.
Now Han is posing for top glossy magazines as the country’s first black fashion model.
Discrimination is widespread. Many are openly mocked at public transport for being “dirty” or “smelly”, or refused entry to fancy restaurants or public baths.
Mixed-race children are bullied at school and constantly taunted as “tuigi”, a derogatory term that literally means cross-bred animals.
Many complain of poor opportunities in many aspects of life, including difficulties socialising, getting a job or finding a spouse.
Han was no exception.
“I wanted to become invisible,” he said. “I hated my looks that stand out from everyone else,” he said.
He found his escape in fashion, taking part in modelling auditions and posting his photos on social media until Youn spotted the images.
He hopes to become a role model for multiracial children. “I want to be more successful, not just for myself but also for people whom I represent.”