In the small, mountain valley town of Yeongju, 66-year-old blacksmith Seok Noh-ki had been bracing for closing his struggling workshop until his home, a traditional Korean hand plow, began selling like hot cakes on Amazon.com and eBay Inc late last year following a promotional campaign on Youtube.
“When they said ‘Amazon’, I thought ‘they’re talking about the rainforest and river that I saw from TV’,” the father of three said.
Having recently discovered the power of the internet to revive the traditional trade he has spent a lifetime committed to, Seok has joined the growing number of aging South Koreans continuing their trade into their late 60s and leading what has been called a “Greynaissance” in a country grappling with a rapidly aging population.
“I’m proud that I’ve managed to start a family with this job and that the best time of my life is now,” Seok said.
His tool, built by hand with a coil spring used in vehicles, is now one of the top 10 gardening tools on Amazon, garnering praise from farmers looking for solid weeding instruments. Seok is one of handful of masters invited to an exhibition in Rouen, the north of France, next month.
Sales have tripled since he went online, including exports to all corners around the world. With 3,000 to 4,000 homis to sell per month, Seok no longer worries about shutting down his workshop, as three other seniors are working for him and there are youngsters looking to succeed his business.
“I wouldn’t be able to meet retail demands without them,” he said, referring to his senior workers. “I can meet demands and the seniors can earn pocket money, maybe save a little for retirement plans.”
By 2050, there will be 71 people aged 65 and over fo r every 100 people aged 15-64 in South Korea, up from just 17.3 per 100 in 2014, making it the third-oldest country in the world after Japan and Spain, according to OECD forecasts.