“My Character Has Both the Bright Side of an Idealist but Also the Dark Side of a Realist.” – In Conversation with Model Kang Minah

Kang Minah has a strong personality. She is determined and often knows what she wants in life. Raised by her mother, Minah learnt how to be independent and how to look after herself when she needs to. Her admiration for her mother’s strength has impacted Minah’s own character: determination is her second nature. 

Prior to becoming a model, Minah studied Interior Design, however, after majoring and working for a design company, her hunger for modelling grew even more. Although she started relatively late as a model, she was able to debut at the Seoul Fashion Week in 2018. She modelled for Ul:Kin, JCHOI and MUSEE.

Minah is very honest about her struggles of being a model in her late 20s, however, this hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams of being one. After a few ups and downs, she managed to sign with an Italian modelling agency thanks to which she was able to come to Milan and do some work during one of the hardest times for the fashion industry: the COVID-19 pandemic. After a couple of months of being in Italy, Minah is slowly preparing to return to South Korea, where she hopes to carry on with modelling, while also working on her interior design portfolio and looking for more European modelling agencies to sign with. 

Recently, Minah and I had a very candid conversation about her life, her journey towards modelling and fashion in general. She also shared her beauty tips and how to stay fit in a day-to-day routine.

Photo © Courtesy of Kang Minah

Your story of becoming a model is one of those stories that every young girl, who dreams of being a part of the fashion world, should hear. Your determination and strength to chase your dream has led you to where you are now, in Italy, modelling. Can you share your story about how you became a model?

Ever since I was young, I was very tall and people made fun of me for how different my face looks. So, my self-esteem was quite low. But in middle school, I came across the TV show America’s Next Top Model and, on this show, people were tall like me, and each had a different appearance of her own. These contestants viewed their differences as strengths, as uniqueness, and models came out of each new challenge better and more confident. This made me dream of becoming a model. 

[Unfortunately] I had to give up on my dream because my mom was against it. So, I decided to become a fashion designer instead because fashion design is closely related to modelling, but due to circumstances at the time, I had to switch to interior design. I worked at an interior design company after college. While working at the company, I was tormented because I couldn’t stop thinking about my long-time dream of becoming a model. And this company gave me insane amounts of workload to the point it ruined my health, so I quit.

I became convinced during this time that if I don’t act on my dream, I would regret it forever. So, I entered a modelling academy using what I earned from my first job. After finishing the academy course, unfortunately, I didn’t pass an agency audition. I also got to be on a runway for the first time ever, but I felt so inadequate. I despaired and gave up on my modelling dream. 

I went back to interior design and got a job at another design company. [During that time] I kept thinking about how I had given up my dream without giving my all into preparing for it. I quit my job again. Then, I made countless calls to photographers, hair stylists, make-up artists, etc., to make my comp card to apply for Seoul Fashion Week. Many refused, but a few said yes, and I was able to make my comp card at last. I also gathered email addresses and showroom addresses of all the brands that participated in Seoul Fashion Week. I kept emailing them and even just went and visited their showrooms uninvited. At last, I debuted as a model during 19SS Soul Fashion Week as a model for brands Ul:Kin, JCHOI, and MUSEE.

Photo © Courtesy of Seo Jong Wook (DryGraphy)

How did you end up in Milan, Italy?

I’ll start from the beginning. I experienced highlights like being part of both the opening and the finale of the 20SS Seoul Fashion Week as a model for the brand KUMANN YOO HYE JIN and saw my personal photoshoot released in a magazine too. But I was not receiving enough of a spotlight nor getting enough opportunities for someone who’s been in the industry for as long as I have. I also failed to get signed by my dream agency 2 years in a row. With such unsteady flow of work, I couldn’t make ends meet, so I started working as a freelance interior designer. That’s how I modelled on and off for 3 years.

Then, by the third year of working as a model, I was at a certain age and had realistic worries like how it’ll become increasingly hard for me to find jobs as an interior designer because my resume was a series of short-term jobs only. A yearlong development contract also ended during this time with barely anything to show for it because COVID-19 cancelled every opportunity. But I knew that if I didn’t go for my dream with everything I had, I was always going to regret it, and I was even more convinced because I had already given up modelling once before. So, during this time of much contemplation, I realised what I really wanted to be was to become a global model, and I thought this was a perfect time to go for my dream again. I prepared and sent out emails to agencies again, but this time I sent them abroad.

I received a call-back – a request for a meeting from an agency in Milano – I did not hesitate to book my ticket to Milano. That’s how I got signed with D’Management Group and began working as a model in Milano. I think I got that contract because there were many people around me who gave me opportunities to model and to work as an interior designer.

Prior to modelling, you studied Interior Design and you worked as a designer as well. Nevertheless, you were brave enough to leave everything behind and start modelling in Korea and now you are working hard to establish yourself as a model in Italy. Looking at your Korean modelling career as well as the one in Italy, even though you have just started, what are the differences between the two?

I’d say Korean contracts provide less for the promotion portion. For instance, Korean agencies do not provide housing for their models. Of course, some Korean agencies do provide housing if you are going to a different city and also cover your travel expenses, send you a driver or a car, etc., just as they do in Italy. But overall, it’s less.

Italy also has a wider range of opportunities, such as more overseas brands to model for, and a higher pay than in Korea. It also goes without saying that the trends and types of models they want in Italy are different. I feel great pride as a Korean model because there are many Korean brands that are well-known even abroad. But I set my goal on working abroad so that I can expand my experience of the world.

Photo © KYE Official

What are your goals as a model? How do you see yourself progressing in this field?

For now, my goals are to get registered on Models.com and to sign with agencies in various countries. I also want to raise Korea’s status, as in raise people’s awareness of our country, by modelling for many different fashion brands and campaigns.

I believe one way to achieve my goals would be to astutely grasp what each brand is looking for and become what they are looking for. Another would be to develop something unique about myself while still consistently working on the basic skills of being a model. I try to be fearless about expressing and promoting myself. That’s what’s appropriate for our modern age. I think if I keep pushing forward inch by inch, more opportunities will come my way, and they will beget even more opportunities.

As modelling requires countless photoshoots, how do you build a relationship with a photographer on-site? Do you ever get shy in front of the camera?

When I’m at a photoshoot, I work to relax the atmosphere a little by chatting with the staff in those stretches of time when we are not shooting. I believe that will help us exchange instructions and questions with each other more comfortably, which will ultimately lead to good photos.

Back when I didn’t have a lot of experience yet, I felt shy during photo shoots. That led to all my poses being too similar. But now, I ask for the concept drafts from the photographer, stylists, or hair and makeup artists beforehand to study the concept. What’s important in the end is to enable the photographer to take as diverse a range of photos as possible. I also ask for music, music makes me less shy and loosens up my body.

Photo © Courtesy of Kang Minah

How do you balance your everyday life and work as a model, especially in such a demanding industry?

There are so many areas of study I want to try, so I fill up my personal life with hobbies. When I’m working as a freelance interior designer, I am at the company I work for designing from the morning to the afternoon. I try to hit the gym in the evening. In whatever breaks of time I can find, I take photos for my Instagram page and work on my personal portfolio. But right now, living abroad, I do think there’s an imbalance between my life as a whole and my modelling life because I can’t work as an interior designer while I’m here. There is no steady income anymore. So now, I’m working on becoming a freelance interior designer who can work from home. Then I think it’ll be easier to achieve that balance again. 

The fashion world did switch over to being online overall, so there are fewer opportunities for models. Before COVID-19, auditions were in-person in which you could use your walking to give a good impression. But now, with things as they are, the model’s overall image, or general mood, is becoming more important. But I haven’t solidified my image yet, so I get fewer auditions than before. Also, I believe it became less important for models to be tall because fashion shows are not in-person nowadays. 

I dream of my mom approving my choice one day. She is such a strong woman who always worked hard in the face of difficulties and came out a better person. I want to be strong like her. 

What features of your character have helped and still help you at work as a model, and which complicate your work?

My character has both the bright side of an idealist but also the dark side of a realist. These polar aspects help me excel in a diverse range of concepts. Another strength is how I studied design, so I can figure out the concept behind a photoshoot with a deeper understanding than most.

Something that complicates my work would be how the dark side of my character is tied to low self-esteem. It takes a lot of effort from me to fight against it, and it keeps me from getting myself out there more confidently. But I’m going to keep trying to become more confident.

Photo © Courtesy of 1000V (1000V Lookbook)

Let’s talk about your beauty regimen: how do you keep yourself healthy? Do you have any tips for our readers?

I used to do both pilates and workouts at the gym. If I wanted to go outdoors, I would ride the bike for as long as two hours while listening to music. But when I can’t do pilates or go to the gym because of COVID-19, I use an app called NIKE TRAINING to design an exercise plan for myself and train at home. I also consider eating a very important factor. You lose muscle mass and harm your health when you don’t eat. So, I put a lot of thought into how and what I eat. I make detox juices with kale, banana, cabbage, broccoli, lemon, etc., blended together.

As for my skin, I think my makeup applies very well when I apply a generous amount of moisturizing cream before I go to bed. I also always use lukewarm water when I shower or wash my face. I do face packs at least 3 times per week.

I take supplements for any nutrients I may be lacking. I recommend our readers try these tips! Let’s get healthier together.

Do you have any guilty pleasure you can share? Maybe something you love to eat or music you secretly love listening to?

My secret is that I like rapping and singing, so I rap or sing along to most songs I listen to. I’ve liked Korean hip hop ever since I was in middle school, and I usually listen to CRUSH, DEAN, COLDE and MILLIC. Also, in Korea, there is something called a ‘Coin Karaoke’ which is a booth for just one person. I sing all sorts of songs for 1 to 2 hours on my own when I want to de-stress, and it works! I also like turning on any dance song and dancing like mad on my own.

When I want to be creative, I do interior designing or take a photo and edit it while listening to music that goes along with that photo. I also sketch, do graphic design, etc. I also love going to exhibits and chatting with friends, so I’m out and about on most weekends. I enjoy eating everything except raw fish. I’m proud of Korea because I think Korean cuisine is fantastic, and I especially like beef intestines, beef entrails BBQ, etc.

Photo © Courtesy of Federico Cambria

Facing forward, what would you like to achieve this year? Do you have any plans with regards to modelling? Perhaps you have different plans for this year and the near future?

As I mentioned, I want to sign with agencies in many different countries and become registered on Models.com this year. I also want to build up my modelling portfolio with a wide range of styles so that I model for just as wide a range of brands.

To that end, I’m going to promote myself through various forms of media, and figure out what style or charm is truly unique to ‘Kang Minah’. And once I return to Korea, I’m going to work on signing with a modelling agency and building up a portfolio that is as diverse as possible. Aside from modelling, I want to create a portfolio for interior design or another creative field so that I can establish a steady source of income on the side. I am trying out many different creative fields right now because I’m looking for what I can do in parallel with modelling, but later on, I want to focus on only modelling and that one other field. 

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Translation by Esther Kim

Photo © Courtesy of MUSEE

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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