Choi Soon-hwa is currently South Korea’s oldest professional model at 75 years old. Just 5 years ago she was working 20-hour shifts, 7 days a week, as a care worker in a hospital. She made the career shift and is now part of the unlikely group of senior citizens finding success in South Korea’s fashion scene.
Choi shares that she decided to make the leap after seeing a TV commercial about senior models. Something clicked in her head and pushed her to enroll in some modeling classes. She was soon picked up by agency The Show Project and the rest is pretty much history.
What motivated her to make such a big change was her discontent with the life she was currently living. Having been in debt for some years all her earnings had been dedicated to paying off loans. This, in turn, forced her to live from paycheck to paycheck. “It was hard to even get myself lunch. The stress was excruciating – it was as if a volcano was about to erupt inside me,” she shares.
Unfortunately, a life of hardship was all she’d ever know as well. Growing up under Japan’s colonial rule, the Korean War and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis meant being too well acquainted with poverty. And as an adult, she had been forced to support 2 children on her own as her husband suddenly abandoned her. From then on she was forced to work full-time and make sacrifice after sacrifice.
“During my years as a single parent of two kids I would wear the same clothes for as long as 20 years,” she says.
Which is a far cry from the fashion-forward figure who walked the runway at Seoul Fashion Week. From all the low points in her life, Choi continued on and is now a widely known and respected model.
She is a favorite of fashion designers due to her unique looks. One such feature is her pale grey hair which makes her stand out among the rest. According to Kim Hee-jin, a designer who hired Choi for her Seoul Fashion Week show last 2018, “there is something very unique about Choi – she has a quality that is different from anyone else [in her generation], and I thought it goes well with the kind of originality that I strive to achieve when making clothes.”
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