The Korea Herald


Ko Eun-kyung, the visionary behind the emergence of model-turned-actors

'Lovely Runner' star Byeon Woo-seok’s moment has come as Ko anticipated

By Kim Jae-heun

Published : June 12, 2024 - 18:11

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Kplus CEO Ko Eun-kyung poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald at Kplus office in Seoul, June 7. (Kplus) Kplus CEO Ko Eun-kyung poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald at Kplus office in Seoul, June 7. (Kplus)

In today's Korean fashion scene, the trajectory of models diverges significantly from their overseas counterparts. Korean models undergo rigorous training from the outset, coached at specialized fashion model academies to not only excel on the runway but also to showcase talents in acting, dancing, or singing, reminiscent of K-pop trainees.

At the forefront of this innovative approach stands Ko Eun-kyung, the CEO of Kplus. She founded the company as a model management agency in 2008 and soon expanded its scope beyond traditional modeling. Following a merger with YG Entertainment in 2014, she coined the term "modeltainers" to describe the versatile models and entertainers nurtured by her agency. Today, Kplus boasts a roster of about 400 models and actors.

"During that period, fashion models, particularly males, faced challenges sustaining themselves solely through commercial photoshoots and runway appearances. I envisioned them breaking out of their conventional roles and venturing into new territories," Ko said during an interview with The Korea Herald on June 7. "As aspirations evolve, today's emerging talents say they want to be the next Lee Sung-kyung, Jang Ki-yong or Byeon Woo-seok."

Recognizing the burgeoning influence of social media in 2013, Ko took proactive measures by introducing her models to Meta's (formerly Facebook) Korean office and offering guidance on optimizing their personal social media presence. Additionally, she established an in-house social media team focusing on boosting Instagram followers for young models, helping them secure product endorsements and expand their reach within the entertainment industry.

"Initially, many models viewed social media as a personal domain. I endeavored to shift this mindset, emphasizing the role of platforms like Facebook and Instagram as promotional tools. I encouraged them to curate their content thoughtfully, steering clear of unbecoming behavior online," Ko explained.

Kplus CEO Ko Eun-kyung (Kplus) Kplus CEO Ko Eun-kyung (Kplus)

Her strategic approach yielded immediate results, with Kplus models like Lee Sung-kyung and Nam Joo-hyuk amassing sizable followers on Instagram. Their online prominence captured the attention of YG Entertainment, leading to their eventual signing with the parent company in 2014.

Since then, Ko has continued to unearth rising stars, including model-turned-K-pop star Kwon Hyun-bin, as well as model-turned-actors Jang Ki-yong and Byeon Woo-seok.

Kwon is well-known for his appearance on the TV reality survival show “Produce 101: Season 2” and for debuting in the former boy group JBJ. Jang gained popularity with the TV series “Go Back,” where he starred in the supporting role of Jung Nam-gil in 2017.

Byeon recently won widespread popularity for his portrayal of Ryu Sun-jae in the recent hit television series, “Lovely Runner.”

"Byeon Woo-seok stood out as a quintessential model from the outset. During his tenure at the Kplus model academy, he distinguished himself as the tallest and most diligent student, coupled with an amiable disposition. However, his journey faced initial hurdles. It wasn't until his military service that he returned with newfound maturity," Ko recounted.

"From the onset of his acting career, I anticipated a gradual ascent for Byeon, given his reserved nature. Such individuals often forge enduring careers unmarred by controversy," she added.

Currently, Ko oversees two fashion model academies in Seoul and Busan, attributing her knack for talent scouting to this strategic setup.

"When scouting new talent, timing is of the essence. Typically, it takes three years for young fashion models to shed their provincial demeanor. Swiftly identifying and honing these hidden gems is paramount," Ko emphasized.

Furthermore, she has redefined the criteria for aspiring fashion models in Korea.

"Height is no longer the sole criterion — minimum height requirements are set at 167 centimeters for women and 180 centimeters for men. Emphasis is placed on proportionate physique, vocal clarity and expressive capabilities. Those well-versed in literature often exhibit a distinct lexicon, a trait highly sought after among young fashion models at Kplus," Ko said.