“Appreciate Korean cultures, support Koreans and be an ally for us. You love our beauty as much [rituals], you better love our people too. ”
Multi-talented journalist, brand founder and author David Yi is a powerhouse in the beauty industry. With over a decade of experience under his belt in the New York media space (where he wrote for publications like WWD and Mashable), Yi launched her own inclusive beauty site, Very Good Light, in 2016. Her latest ventures include a new genderless skincare brand called Good Light and an upcoming book titled Beautiful boys (to be released June 22).
Kicking off our series of Brand Founders Interviews for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI), we caught up with Yi to discuss all things beauty-related, including why he launched not a but two inclusive beauty brands, and how consumers can appreciate Korean beauty without fetishizing cultural practices and rituals.
How did you make the transition from journalism to product development?
“I’ve been a journalist for over a decade, mainly in the fashion and beauty industry, working for places like the New York Daily News, WWD and Mashable. Throughout the trip, I felt that the beauty space was so gendered. For example, why are the aisles of beauty so separated by binary sex when there are, and always have been, more gender expressions than just men or women? It was also so alienating to walk both aisles knowing that neither was responding to someone like me – a consumer who shaves but also likes to hit his face every now and then. One section is hyperfeminine while the other is hypermasculine, but I don’t think most consumers identify with either. It made me think that there was room for greater inclusion of the genre and for the beauty industry to truly be a space for everyone.
How did you get into journalism?
“I started in high school in my school newspaper, The Lever. I’ve always written about Asian Americans’ issues or focused my experience on being Korean American, which my editors didn’t like. I remember a white editor telling me that she could no longer publish articles on Asians because she did not want to be called an “Asian newspaper”. Xenophobia is real, folx. It made me realize that this person didn’t see Asians as Americans – and I had to fight to get every single one of my stories published. It was an uphill battle, but I am very grateful for these experiences which really prepared me for the world of hardcore journalism in New York.
The democratization of beauty is a major pillar of your brands. Can you tell me why this is important to you?
“I grew up in Colorado Springs as one of the only Asian Americans in a predominantly white city. I always felt thirsty and like I didn’t belong. There was also this idea that I was not beautiful because of my almond eyes, my jet black hair or my golden complexion. Because I was confronted with racism very early on, it was essential for me to become an advocate and activist at a young age – to fight for others as well as for my own people. This first experience allowed me to feel a great sense of empathy towards others and this is the main reason why I became a journalist. I wanted to tell stories from all angles and uplift other people’s stories and their voices so that they feel empowered.
How was it to launch a brand during the pandemic?
“It’s both rewarding and stimulating. I was also simultaneously working on my first book, Beautiful boys, which is not a fiction and a deep dive into the history of men, folx identifying mascots and their relationship with beauty and power. I also worked on our campaign, BIDEN Beauty, which went instantly viral and raised funds for the DNC. I was so busy and distracted with productivity that I overcame my pain and angst by suppressing them. I decompress, reflect, and elevate now during this time. And the healing – I’m definitely trying to heal.
You’ve said before that you never felt represented in the beauty community because you loved masks and makeup, but also facial hair care, etc. Can you tell us more and how Good Light approaches this duality?
“Good Light is a beauty brand that is all about unleashing your own light from within. First of all, it is about self-realization and love, self-esteem and possession of one’s beauty. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, be that beholder. Only you can set the tone for power and agency. I hope Good Light can continue to be a safe space to explore who you are, your identity and your power. And we want to create products for everyone, regardless of your gender identity, your race, your height, your complexion, your skin texture, your sexuality. “
How has it been to see so many Korean beauty rituals and practices become a part of North American beauty? Do you mind hearing these practices being called “trends”?
“It bothered me when I was younger that Americans were discovering other cultures and calling them ‘trends’ as if we were discoveries to be discovered. In fact, we have always been here. We have always prospered. We have always been beautiful; it’s just that others have been slow to recognize centuries of our rich ancestry. While I’m all about sharing cultures, I’m not for fetishizing or objectifying anyone based on their race or background. I love that K-beauty is democratizing for everyone – it’s because Korean technology is the best in the world. But I am also for appreciating cultures. Appreciate Korean cultures, support Koreans and be an ally for us. As much as you love our beauty [rituals], you better love our people too. “
If Good Light was there when you were growing up in Colorado Springs, how would it have changed your approach to beauty? What would a brand like this have meant to you?
“It would have been so transformative. That would have been all. To feel as seen, heard and validated would have meant the world. Performance matters – and I always selfishly cling to the very good light and the good light in times when I too need community.
Growing up, what was your relationship with beauty?
“I grew up with a Korean mother and father who both focused on beauty products. My father groomed himself by coating his pores with essences, toners and creams. My mom would do the same, instilling in an impressionable young self how important sunscreen is. I didn’t know that at the time, but now after some thought I understand what it was like to face American racism and survive hardships. With each soaking of their pores, they were practicing self-love. Five minutes each morning and evening was a routine just for them, where they could calm the world down and be aware, present and in the moment.
What are your Good Light goals?
“My goals for Good Light are to continue to champion the diversity, inclusion and understanding that we have so much work to do! I roll up my sleeves everyday and see how I can help. “
What do you want the brand to say to people who feel like they don’t belong?
“I hope Good Light portrays beauty beyond the binary. There is so much power and beauty out there. We – collectively, all of us – are worthy of it and I hope this beauty mark shows that yes a brand couldn’t care less!