The last time we caught up with Hye Won Jang, she was only starting to pursue her dream: To become a model in New York City. This was in 2017, and the Manila-raised Korean model was already making waves in the Big Apple, working for big names in fashion and beauty, walking the runway for Christian Cowan and being a muse in presentations for Burberry and Alice and Olivia. Her face was plastered on digital campaigns and boutiques, being casted by global beauty brands like Surratt, Innisfree, Kevyn Aucoin, Trish McEvoy, and many more. In short, it was an action-packed adventure for the young model—one that lasted for three years.
But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the fashion industry hard. The 28-year-old took this as a sign and decided to pack her bags and follow a new career path—this time, in her homeland South Korea. "Modeling in New York was a dream but I always knew that it wasn't the end-goal," Hye Won tells Preview. Working for beauty brands in NYC developed her love for the industry, and as if the universe knew this, she was offered a marketing job at a K-beauty company in Seoul after she flew out. Now, what was supposed to be a short layover in the city turned into a full-time career.
Below, Hye Won Jang tells the story of her career shift from model to beauty marketer, and what it's like to move, work, and live in Manila, New York, and Seoul:
Hi Hye Won! First off, what do you think are the highlights of your modeling stint in New York?
"I was in New York for three years and three highlights come to mind:
1. New York Fashion Week
"One of the very first jobs since I stepped foot into New York was fashion week. I got to open my very first NYFW show for Christian Cowan, which Paris Hilton closed. She literally arrived moments before the show started. Everything happened so fast. I think the hair, makeup, rehearsal, and show in total took less than four hours—but that's how it is in New York. That show just felt like a dream! It was a bonus when icons like Erin Parsons and Orlando Pita were doing my hair and makeup during Fashion Week shows. I was acting cool but deep inside I was fangirling LOL.
I love reality TV and one of my favorite shows is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. When I booked the Kyle x Shahida show I didn’t know that "Kyle" meant Kyle Richards. To my pleasant surprise, I saw the entire cast backstage for the show and quickly realized that they were walking the show with me! Seeing the camera crew of the RHOBH was so fun too. Another fangirl moment! Haha!
2. Shooting beauty campaigns for major brands
"I love anything beauty, and even when I was modeling in Asia, my favorite shoots to do were beauty shoots. I had the chance to work with brands like Kevyn Aucoin, Surratt, Moroccan Oil and even Innisfree USA (which is originally from Korea!). When people were tagging me on Instagram for ads they've seen in Saks 5th Ave. New York, Selfridges London or Innisfree Australia, I was ecstatic.
3. Working with Burberry
"Probably one of my last jobs in the States was for Burberry. This job was such a cherry on top and a memorable finale to my New York experience. I was booked to do a month-long continental collection presentation for five states and cities from New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Vancouver, and Toronto. We were treated like VIPs in each city, staying in five-star hotels and given solo SUV rides.
"It's so funny because I was nearing the end of my New York stay and I said to myself, 'I wonder when I can travel to all the states I want to visit in the US and Canada in such little time.' Then this job happened. I was so happy to work with the and I loved every minute of it."
You announced that you're moving out of NY in May last year. What made you realize it was time to move on? And why did you choose to move to Korea?
"Modeling in New York was a dream but I always knew that it wasn't the end-goal. Whilst working as a model there, my love for beauty really developed and it was actually in New York that I decided I wanted to work in the beauty industry—I just wasn’t sure when because I still loved modeling. But the pandemic really hit the fashion industry hard in 2020, and I was like, 'This is a sign, and I think now is the time to do it.'
"Moving to Korea was sort of an accident. At that time the borders were stricter and I couldn't enter the Philippines, so I went to Korea to wait for the borders to loosen. Next thing I knew, I got a job in the industry I wanted and it’s been a year since. Korea was supposed to be a short layover. I never actually planned to work and live here, but I just had to grab the opportunity when I saw it. I think you just have to have faith that things really do work out in the end especially when it is meant to be.
"Fun fact: Before now, I actually lived in Korea as an international exchange student at Seoul National University in 2011. At that time, I was starting to model already and I got to walk for Seoul Fashion Week while at school. That was my first Fashion Week outside of the Philippines!"
Can you tell us more about your current job as a beauty marketer?
"I am working for a K-beauty company doing online marketing work for the Singapore team! (It's also kinda funny I ended up in the Singapore Team after having shortly lived there too in 2013. Thanks to my modeling stint then, the Singaporean market doesn't feel all that alien to me). It's an e-commerce management job and we localize Korean beauty products to the Singaporean market."
Going from model to beauty marketer is quite the jump. Have you always wanted to work in the beauty industry?
"Since I was in college, I knew that I wanted to work in marketing, whether it be in an FMCG, tech, or cosmetics company. I actually interned for Unilever and worked for Grab before living in Hong Kong and New York!
"Ever since I was young, my mom always encouraged me to take care of my skin. She was also the one who told me to use serums in my early 20s. (Thanks Oma! Haha.) From that, my obsession with skincare and makeup grew and it just got amplified when I saw the behind-the-scenes of how things worked when I was modeling."
After a year of working in Seoul, what are some insights or trends about the K-beauty industry that you think Preview readers would love to know?
"1. In Korea, it’s all about the cushion. When you enter any beauty store, you will see more cushions that you would liquid foundations or pressed powders. Because of the multi-use benefits and convenience (not just coverage but other benefits like anti-aging, pore-coverage, brightening, sebum-controlling, SPF, and moisturizing benefits), probably every Korean woman has a cushion in their handbag. Being a Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer girl, I actually never touched cushions before coming to Korea. Now I get what the hype is about!
"2. Every market has different criteria for purchasing a product, but in Korea, they love to see elaborate descriptions of the product when they buy something. They love to see clinical trial certificates, real reviews, B&A photos, charts, full ingredients, and the like. Another thing is that in terms of buying foundations, it’s not just about the lasting power or the coverage. They also care whether it 'sticks well' to the skin. This is a factor I never really considered before! The complexity of their criteria was quite surprising to see—since I was so used to concise product pages and most usually word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family.
"3. Koreans are VERY big on trends. Right now, maskne-friendly ingredients like cica (centella asiatica) and carrot seed oil are gaining popularity. There are also more transfer-proof cosmetics being launched like cushions and extra waterproof + curling mascaras that don’t budge even with wearing masks. In terms of makeup looks, gradient lips are slowly dying down and it’s now becoming more about fuller lips. For eyes, soft, mauve colors."
You have a degree in management engineering from Ateneo. Has this been helpful to you in this job and working in the corporate world in general?
"Yes! My course is very math-heavy but the career path that can be taken from it is pretty diverse. I love math, but I didn't want to work in finance, so I've always aimed at the marketing route—where I can still be creative, but also apply the learned tools in analytics, strategy, and management."
Has your know-how from living in New York and Manila helped you navigate your new job and life there in Seoul?
"For sure. Just like my adjustment from Korea to Manila, and Manila to New York, moving to Seoul was another 'move' that didn’t feel so daunting. For sure there were times of anxiety when I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but having learned to stay flexible and open-minded definitely helped. Also, knowing what to search and what to set-up (a.k.a. adulting lol) and navigating transport systems from so many countries made it easier to adjust. It also helped that I have relatives who live here."
You also run a food Instagram, @hyeletseat. So far, what have been some of your favorite food spots in Seoul (or even outside the city) that you recommend others to visit?
"When I first came here, I didn’t know that Seoul would be FILLED with food spots. I think it’s impossible for me to try them all. I have this personal rule of not repeating restaurants unless I really want to go again. Here are some of my going-back-worthy restos:
1. Oncheonjip, Ikson-dong
"It's a hot springs-themed restaurant with shabu-shabu and bento-style dishes. I love the ambience (very IG-worthy), and they serve their desserts right across from them!"
2. Samyukga, Sadang
"This is my fave KBBQ spot. It’s the only KBBQ spot where I enjoy the ENTIRE meal including the meat ('flower' samgyupsal), kimchi selection (all home-made), veggies (super fresh), spring onion salad, dips, and even the tea!"
3. Hansang Charim
"I call this banchan (side dish) heaven. It’s a perfect intro to a Korea trip where you will be served unlimited sides and bossam (herb-infused pork) as the main. It's a spot loved by locals."
Since you've lived and worked in Manila, New York, and now Seoul, what are your favorite things about each city that you think are unique to it?
"I am a full Korean but I always say that I'm a Manileña at heart. No matter where I go, Manila will always feel like my true home.
"Manila is the warmest among the three—in terms of the people, and the weather (no winter stresses). People are always nice and friendly wherever you go. I will always call it home because it’s where I grew up and it’s where most of my friends live. I feel the most comfortable and relaxed in Manila. I love the food (I am obsessed with pinoy food – I LOVE tuyo, sinigang, daing, kang kong+++). The cost of living being affordable is a huge plus.
"New York is synonymous with adventure and extremes. Nothing is half-assed over there. I love the energy, the adrenaline, and the push it gives me to want to be the best. The stereotype is true: It is a crazy city, but that is its charm. A day doesn't go by without something interesting happening. Huge plus: all the beauty products I want are available there (I don’t need to order it internationally LOL).
"Seoul is a very orderly city. It's a place where things pretty much always go as planned, everyone is a good citizen, and people abide by the rules. The citizen benefits are great, and everything is fast (usually no waiting times), accessible and convenient. They have same-day deliveries, too. Just about anything can be done online. The fact that the city never had a lockdown still blows my mind, but I'm thankful that I was still able to go outside during this pandemic especially since I was living by myself!"
Do you think you'll ever go back to New York? To Manila?
"I consider Manila my home so eventually I do see myself going back at some point! As for New York, I am open to going back there because it’s one of my favorite cities. If I get a career opportunity there, I 100% would!"
What do you think were the best and also most challenging parts of moving to the other side of the world for your dream job?
"Good: [You'll become] the most independent you will ever be. Being outside of my comfort zone really pushed me to grow faster. The freedom, the newness of everything was so fun to experience. Every day felt like a new adventure—like I was traveling for fun but I was actually working! Also, it’s just a completely different world out there. I thought I was open-minded, but moving so much farther away opened my eyes even further.
"Bad: Being far away from family and friends, in a completely different time zone which made communication more difficult. Luckily, I had my best friends with me (fellow Filipina models) who have kept me sane. Moving is also difficult in terms of setting up your life from scratch—with little to zero connections and building yourself again from the ground up. It's different from working in your own hometown where everything feels more comfortable and you have more connections.
"Thankfully, Filipinos have a strong sense of community so it wasn't difficult to expand my network and friend group over in New York. That's one of the qualities I love about Filipinos—they always try to help each other out, especially when you are far away from home."
What advice you can offer anyone hoping to pursue a career overseas like you have?
Set the goal.
"The most important step is to set where you want to go. That way you can be clearer on what opportunities are out there for you, and you can gear your current work towards achieving that. When I was working as a model in Asia, I made sure to maximize the jobs I can get that would help with seeking agencies in New York. In the same way, you can network and work towards positions that have specs that would be useful in getting that job overseas in the future.
"Age was a part in my goal setting. I wanted to be in NY before I turned 25—just as a personal mark, and I wanted to be working in the beauty industry before I turned 30."
"Build the foundation so when the right time comes, you are ready to go. Do your research for the job you want, the visa rules of that country, and try to get insider information such as by joining Facebook Groups for foreigner job-seekers. Build your network by asking people around (who knows, someone may be able to recommend you overseas!).
"I would say there are two tracks that I witness a lot—either you build yourself up locally (or regionally) then move up, or take a leap of faith by moving and then find the opportunity. With all this though, I'd say that you should learn to embrace your life's unique path and remain flexible! There’s no end-all-be-all formula for everyone—and the tracks may look different. As long as you remain determined and hopeful though, you will get there!"
To keep up with Hye Won, follow her on Instagram.
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