David Yi wants everyone to feel seen, heard, and celebrated. After chatting with him for 30 minutes, I felt all those things. Yi has championed underrepresented voices in fashion and beauty media for over a decade—working at brands like People, New York Magazine, and Mashable. In 2016, he decided to venture out on his own and create his media company very good light. Yi has strived to redefine beauty and masculinity through the platform—fostering thought-provoking conversations about the male modeling industry, growing up Asian American, and men wearing makeup.
While he has already significantly impacted the industry, Yi continues to find new ways to amplify diversity and inclusion. Last year, he wrote an illustrated book dedicated to male icons who have impacted beauty. He also launched a skincare line called good light, which exists to celebrate beauty beyond the binary. With all he's done, Yi has undoubtedly cemented his status as a beauty hero. Yet, there's still so much more in store for him. Ahead, Yi discusses his experience growing up as a Korean American, working in media, and building a skincare brand.
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what little David was like.
I grew up in a predominately white area in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was an awkward child and felt like I didn't belong. Growing up, my parents were really into skincare. My mom slathered my skin with SPF 100 every day. I'd go to school looking like a Korean vampire because sunscreens weren't good back then and left a white cast. But I also remember my Korean father looking in the mirror and tending to his skin and hair daily. I'd always ask, "What is dad doing in the bathroom by himself?" I later realized it was his form of self-care and self-preservation as an immigrant. It was hard for him to learn English, and he dealt with a lot of racism. Taking a few minutes to prep himself for the day helped him deal with the cruelty he faced.
However, as a second-generation Korean American child, it was jarring to deal with the two different beauty philosophies I grew up with. In the Eastern world, it's all about self-respect and showing up in your best light. It also teaches you that everyone has divine femininity and masculinity. Meanwhile, the Western world was pushing me towards hyper-masculinity. Because of this, I struggled to figure out my place.
When did you begin to feel more comfortable embracing your identity and interests?
We receive many messages telling us how men and women should act. Where do I belong as someone who is not hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine? I use sheet masks, shave, and like a nice eyeliner. It's still jarring to think about this today. Only in the past decade could I embrace my femininity, masculinity, and two cultures. Beauty products have no gender, but we all have important gender identities. I've always dreamt of a more inclusive world where we could just exist and not have to slough away our identity to be embraced. This is what I've been fighting for the past 10 years.
You've used your career in media to amplify diversity, equity, and inclusion. What prompted you to pursue a journalism career?
I was a nosy child and always wanted to connect with people. I also understood that storytelling was a form of advocacy. I became a journalist because I saw no Asian American stories being told. My entire career has been about writing about diverse people. I wanted to amplify our voices—Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA people. At the end of my career in traditional media in 2016, I was like, "Where do I go next?" I had written for everyone at this point; it was like the universe was telling me I needed to do my own thing.
What was it like transitioning into entrepreneurship?
When I would push for diversity in the spaces I was working in, it fell on deaf ears. So, my best friend Sarah Springer and I created a nonprofit organization called Advocates for Inclusion in Media in 2015. We wanted diverse people in the media to unite and speak about our experiences. Around that time, I was also getting pushback from publications about wanting to write about diversity. That's when I knew I had to create my site very good light. The first few stories I wrote were about redefining beauty and masculinity. I wanted the platform to use beauty as a vehicle to analyze culture.
You've since expanded your brand and now create skincare products. What has it been like developing good light?
It's been a humbling experience. I come from the traditional editorial world, but I always knew there was a space that wasn't filled. And that's the gender-inclusive space. We don't say genderless because I think it's an antiquated phrase. Genderless almost blankets over all gender identities and says, "Oh, we don't need to recognize anyone." I wanted to create a gender-inclusive brand where we're shedding light on people's proud gender identities.
Good light feels incredibly thoughtful and uplifting from the visuals to the language. What inspired you during the brand development process?
We thought about another universe where we could all just belong. It's a futuristic world that doesn't have light. People have read about light sources in books but have never seen them. But mysteriously, light is coming back to the planet. We were also inspired by the moth, which is our mascot. The moth is an underdog. Its cousin, the butterfly, gets to expand its wings in the daytime and everyone appreciates its beauty. But the moth hides in the shadows. I think a lot of us have felt like the moth at times. However, the incredible thing about the moth is that it will eventually find the light. That's what good light is all about—finding your light and celebrating who you are.
What are you working on right now?
We launched with Ulta online, which is amazing. We'll continue expanding into different territories and, hopefully, globally. I feel like we are just at the cusp of our mission. Two weeks ago, I went to a Morphe store and saw good light on the shelves. I realized this is not only a moment for me but all young queer people and people of color. If you feel as if you don't belong in your school or household, where do you go? You go to your local beauty store. I imagine many people may go to Morphe as a refuge, and I want them to know they belong when they see a good light product that says "beauty beyond the binary." That's why I'm on this path. It's about the bigger mission.
You're pouring so much into your community and helping others. How do you practice self-care?
I live in Colorado for now. I've been here to write my book and be with my family. Having family time has helped ground me. Life is precious, and we can't take our loved ones for granted. I also love taking long walks. There are trails everywhere here in Colorado. Being around nature fills me up.