Youthforia founder Fiona Chan reflects on how an immersion into Asian culture as an adult led her to formulate her best-selling brand.
By Fiona Chan
Understanding My Asian Roots
I grew up in a predominantly Asian immigrant community. My grandparents left China for Vietnam and then my parents left Vietnam as refugees of the Vietnam War. Growing up, my parents incorporated traditions from both Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. And while I never struggled with feeling different from my classmates - many of us were first generation and could relate to having immigrant parents - I did struggle to grasp the vast cultural traditions my parents tried to teach me.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties when I spent time in Asia that everything clicked into place for me. I was working for a tech startup and got the opportunity to cover Asian clients and as a result, I spent half of my twenties living in Asia. Up until this point, I experienced Asian culture through the lens of my parents' experiences of decades prior in war-torn Vietnam - through what they told me and shared, but I didn’t have a deep grasp for it then.
A Turning Point
That all changed when I landed in Asia. I absolutely fell in love (both with the region and culture and with my husband whom I met while traveling). Growing up, my parents would always talk about Chinese medicine and about Chi or the importance of blood circulation but to be honest, I really couldn’t grasp what they meant. But living in Asia as a young adult, I could really experience everyone really living these values day in and day out, and I began to adopt this into all facets of my life. There’s a nuanced difference between the Asia that my parents grew up in a couple of decades prior and the Asia I experienced in my young adulthood - just as America in the 70’s is different from America today. Sometimes my parents even joke that I’ve become “more Asian” than they are.
The Start of Youthforia
I started Youthforia while I was still living in Asia and the culture is baked into every product - I found myself in Hong Kong for most of the pandemic. We make makeup that you can sleep in - because I really wanted makeup that acted like skincare, that was so good for your skin, you could sleep in it. In many Asian cultures, there’s a night culture that’s different from any other place I’ve ventured. Many nights you will see people of ages going out to restaurants, bars, night markets and parks. At all hours. I had so many fun nights out with friends - where I’d come home in the wee hours, and inevitably sleep in my makeup. I couldn’t believe this kind of makeup that embraced skin health and didn’t compromise fun wasn’t already a thing.
Makeup So Good For Your Skin, You Can Sleep in It
During my time in Asia, my previous work would bring me to some of the most polluted cities in the world where data centers are. I used to sleep in N95s and it was the first time in my life that I learned to never take for granted living in a place with clean air and water. I remember feeling extremely sick, and thinking, “when you can’t control your air or water, you can only control what you eat and what you put on your skin.” But none of my makeup or skincare would work for me in these tricky environments.
Those experiences really impacted the decision to adopt the principles of Green Chemistry into our formulations (it means we don’t like to formulate with fossil fuels, we will use synthetic ingredients but we prefer it to be sourced from renewable ingredients like plants). Most makeup today is made from fossil fuels. On average, a woman uses 15 products a day - which means she’s washing 300 chemicals a day down the drain - most of which are made from non-renewable ingredients. This is a huge passion area of mine .
“Because I had to spend a lot of time in very polluted environments, I saw what that did to your skin, mental health and overall wellbeing, and I wanted to challenge that.”
Art Meets Science
It was also in Asia where I trained as a makeup artist. I always wanted to go to makeup school, even when I was in college, and I never knew why. In Asia, there’s a huge emphasis on maintaining skin health even while wearing makeup especially on high pollution days. I’ve taken a lot of my learnings into our product development especially with Pregame Primer. Coming from an artist’s perspective outside of the US has shown me the gaps in the way we think about makeup in the States, often as two separate routines - makeup and skin care. I wanted to bridge that gap without making anyone feel guilty about wearing makeup or not doing a 10-step routine.
Our brand name Youthforia means those happy moments when you’re reminded of your favorite childhood memories.
For my mom, the first time she felt that feeling was when she immigrated to San Francisco and upon landing, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m super grateful that my parents always taught us both Chinese and Vietnamese cultures because I know that those are their favorite childhood memories. And while my parents experienced Asia in childhood and America in their formative adult years - I got the opportunity to do the opposite, I experienced America in my childhood and Asia in my adulthood.
I always look to my parent’s courage and resilience as inspiration.