Very Good Light: A Conversation with Founder David Yi by Martin Lerma – Portrait by Carolyne Teston
Beauty is often considered a woman’s realm with entire international conglomerates designed to dictate its standards and peak female interest. Though traditional gender boundaries are slowly dissolving, men’s grooming seems to be stuck staunchly in the past with the conversation stopping somewhere just beyond the ins and outs of shaving. But a new generation is working hard to change that.
David Yi, an experienced fashion and beauty journalist who has contributed to everything from the Wall Street Journal to Refinery29, came up with the idea for his website Very Good Light while working at Mashable and recognizing the need for digital publications that could speak to modern men about issues that they might only otherwise share with their closest friends. He wanted to create a resource where they could go to learn the answers to all the intimate skincare and haircare questions that cross their minds.
But it is clear that Yi’s overall mission goes far deeper than discussion of the most effective products. To him, engaging in a conversation about beauty is really a way to broach the subject of masculinity and how its traditional iterations shape our society. Below, Yi shares his thoughts on the role of social media, how his heritage and upbringing affected his worldview, where he’d like his business to go next and so much more.
When did you officially launch Very Good Light and what made it feel like the right time?
I officially launched Very Good Light in October of 2016. After almost a decade covering men’s fashion and grooming, I knew that there was a need to talk about beauty in a more progressive manner. And it seems to have paid off. Two days before launching, CoverGirl announced its first cover boy in James Charles. Maybelline followed suit with their first male face as well. It’s become a movement of boy beauty and I’m so proud to be involved with it.
What made you decide to call your project Very Good Light?
We’re all in search of that very good light. Whether it’s selfies or find that good light for photographs. But what if we didn’t have to rely on the elements to get that great photograph? What if we exuded very good light from within so that wherever we went, we’d always take that good photo because we have an inner confidence? That inner confidence exudes from the inside out.
Over the past few years, there’s been a tremendous amount of talk when it comes to the rapid growth of the men’s market from clothing to skincare. What specific social or economic factors do you believe led to this explosion?
Men are now seeing that they don’t need to be placed in a very heteronormative box. It’s obvious that Gen Z sees the confines of gender roles as antiquated and stuffy. You don’t have to be hyper-masculine to prove how “masculine” you are, whatever masculinity even means. Everyone is defining what masculinity means for themselves and it’s so empowering to see that young people are being who they want to be.
What kinds of questions or concerns does your target generation of men (Gen Z/Millenials) have that are perhaps different from generations past?
Gen Z is so different from millennials in a multitude of ways. They’re the first generation, after all, that was completely born with technology. Basically, they came out of the womb with an iPhone in hand. This means they’re so much savvier when it comes to social media. They are more cautious when they approach what they post and they see technology as something positive that can change the world. They are in control. Gen Z wants to change the world, more so than any other generation. They want to find out ways to empower themselves and become better individuals. In order to do this, they want to learn more about confidence, learn more about how to become better allies to People of Color and to become better feminists.
What topics are you most requested to cover by your readers?
Hair has been extremely popular for us. It makes sense. Hair is universal. Most guys have it. And it’s something that guys can outwardly talk about amongst their friends without feeling it’s weird or awkward.
You’ve mentioned before that growing up in a Korean household has had a large influence on your appreciation for skincare. Why do you think more involved regimens are considered the norm for men in many parts of Asia but remain taboo here and elsewhere?
I think it’s because Koreans see skincare as something that can get them a leg up on the competition. In an extremely homogenous society, Koreans who look alike and have the same credentials, feel they can only excel if they look more attractive than everyone else. Unlike in the States where it’s completely diverse, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in Korea, there’s one definition of beautiful. Koreans see that they can get better jobs, better spouses, better opportunities only when they differentiate. Beauty is one way to become their better selves.
In a profile with The New York Times, you mentioned plans for future growth of your website with expanded content that focuses on sex and dating. Do you have any aspirations to expand beyond the website itself, perhaps your own skincare like Glossier or publishing a grooming guide for modern men?
There are so many opportunities for expansion and maybe one day we will focus or venture to different businesses. But at our core, I want to focus on Very Good Light’s readers. We’re on a mission to redefined masculinity, men’s beauty standards and truly make a more inclusive world. I want Very Good Light to always be an open home for anyone who feels they’re different, they don’t belong, or are misunderstood.
Your website states, “Very Good Light aims to redefine masculinity and men’s beauty standards. This is accomplished through personal essays, impactful longform stories, compelling photography and videos, along with personable how-tos and product reviews.” Why do you think tackling issues related to traditional masculinity is important right now and how do you hope your website sparks those conversations?
Grooming has always been only a funnel to talk about bigger culture-pushing issues. Whether that’s Muslim American teens and their lives post-Trump, or a story on Sikh American men and turbans. I think that in this political climate, where people are more fearful of their lives than ever before, we need to embrace sensitivity. We need to continue telling stories of diversity. We need to stand up for our neighbors. We need to be more alert and ensure we show love, compassion and solidarity.
Very Good Light: A Conversation with Founder David Yi by Martin Lerma – Photography by Carolyne Teston