While fashion writer David Yi was still working at Mashable, a thought occurred to him: Surely, there were other men out there — men like his coworkers who didn't work in the fashion space — who were interested in beauty beyond the standard-issue "beard oil" grooming stories being promoted by mainstream men's publications.
"I was at lunch one day with one guy and I was like, 'Let me ask you a question, would you ever use concealer?' and he's like, 'Oh David, I'm using it now!'" Yi recalls with a laugh. "He was like, 'Honestly, I don't need my boss knowing that I got all kinds of ratchet at 4 A.M., so I need to have an under eye concealer so he doesn't know I went out last night.'"
But where had his coworker learned to apply under eye concealer? There was plenty of information out there in the women's space, of course, but as Yi tells it, these men didn't want to ask their girlfriends or their moms for help learning how to cover up a zit. Yi pressed his coworker for more details and learned that this guy had walked into a Sephora and found the prettiest sales associate to help him find a shade that would work for him, and then teach him how to apply it.
"It was like, ding ding ding — why do you have to do something as antiquated as walking into a brick-and-mortar store and have that experience?" he asks. "Why isn't there a social channel, a YouTube channel, a website for you from men like you?"
Well, now, as of Monday morning, there is: One year later, Yi is launching Very Good Light, a website dedicated to men's grooming and beauty. While the site will cover all those surface issues — how to use a BB cream, the best way to hide a hickey — Yi says the goal is to use those topics as a funnel to talk about what masculinity means today. "When I was at Mashable, my mantra was, fashion is more than just commerce, it's more than something you buy; fashion can be identity to you, fashion can be your armor," he says, citing two projects for Mashable of which he's most proud: a story on transgender teens, and a story on black men who dress in suits to survive this country's racial tensions.
"I want to take that mantra and infuse it into Very Good Light, so that grooming isn't just skin deep, it's transformative," he continues. "It can be your identity; men's beauty can help you express yourself and allow you to get through your day. It can be something that makes you feel sexual, makes you feel free, makes you feel you can be anything you want to be."
He's aiming to reach the coveted Generation Z audience, the guy who looks at men like Jaden Smith or Young Thug and admires their commitment to breaking gender barriers. "I feel that Gen Z, they're so much more progressive than millennials in so many ways," Yi says. "This is a generation that was raised on digital; because of that, their eyes are opening to the fact that being different and unique is not only cool, it's beautiful." While he doesn't have hard data yet, Yi says the "sweet spot" for Very Good Light is between ages 16 and 26.
With this audience in mind, Very Good Light launched with social first; however, unlike many of his contemporaries in the Gen Z space, like Obsessee or Clover Letter, Very Good Light will have an active home website. Over coffee a few weeks before launch, Yi pulls up a password-protected version of the site. It launches with a first-person essay from Yi about a time he almost died for a selfie, rather than any kind of lofty mission statement or welcome letter. A planned banner franchise is "Groom Raiders," an Into the Gloss "Top Shelf"-style piece with men like Nicola Formichetti.
Yi is so committed to reaching his audience in an authentic way, he has bi-weekly meetings with Jüv Consulting, a Gen Z consulting agency founded by a 16-year-old. The agency has over 100 teen consultants in spaces that run the gamut from fashion to politics, and they offer feedback on everything Very Good Light has to offer. They critique the social media accounts, tell Yi which words are trending (and perhaps more importantly, which are dead), and have even found freelancers to contribute to the website.
While Yi is currently the only person working on the website full time, he's quick to point out that this isn't something he could have ever done alone. Back in May, he hosted what he calls a "creatives brunch" at his apartment with several of his friends in the industry to get their input on bringing his idea to life. As a result, he's starting out with work by Dan Michel from Men's Health and former Details editor Jon Roth, photographers who have worked with Harper's Bazaar and Vogue Korea, and senior producers from Vice and Mashable — all of whom helped as a favor. "These people are all helping me from the goodness of their heart, and because they believe in the mission — they want to change the world with me," Yi says.
Very Good Light is also currently exclusively funded by Yi himself. As men's publications disappear, there is demand in the space for advertising — Complex reports that men's grooming is estimated to bring $29 billion in revenue this year alone — but it was important to Yi to protect his integrity with his potential readers by launching free of ads. "I want to partner with the right brand, a brand that speaks to Gen Z and young millennials, and I want to understand what they want, and what content they want, to be able to say yes or no to opportunities," he says.
At the end of the day, this website is as much a personal mission for Yi as it is a business one. Growing up in rural Colorado Springs, CO wasn't easy for him; his peers bullied or teased him for being one of the only non-white kids at his school. He wasn't surprised to learn in his research that 79 percent of teen suicides are boys. "I want to reclaim that power, tell guys it's okay to have feelings and be who you are, you can open up and you can be emotional — beauty and grooming is that funnel," he says of Very Good Light's driving motivator.
"I want to create a movement, and I want to create a hub. I want to feel like there's a home for that guy who doesn't feel like he belongs," Yi continues. "If I can touch one person, and if one person feels they can get through the day by seeing someone else who looks like them, then I think that mission is complete."