Deez Interviews: Meet the SELF commerce editor whose Google Doc holiday wishlist game will inspire you

Happy Friday, Deezers! Today’s interview is with SELF’s shopping & product savant, Lori Keong. We talked about the magazine’s meticulous product testing process, Gen Z’s v. influential buying habits, and her recs on the most genius places to start browsing up on your fave kooky cool holiday gifts. Enjoy!

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The interviewee: Lori Keong (follow her @ljkeong!) 

The gig: Commerce editor @ SELF

The day-to-day: 

The term “commerce editor” is sort of confusing (which I know because of how many credit card and financial pitches I field, but it basically means that I’m heading up the shopping and product-focused content at SELF. All of that entails some high-level strategizing on how we should cover products in the first place, analyzing the data on our shopping posts, as well as writing and editing shopping content that I think our readers will like. Two to three days out of the week, my days are bookended with work events and previews for brand and product launches. I’m working on being more selective, though, and saying no to appointments that could be an email. 

When I get in, I try to manage my backlog of emails, but I’m consistently an inbox 76, not an inbox zero, type of person. From there, my day is a mixture of editing stories from in-house writers or freelancers, writing, and more meetings than I’ve ever had in my life. I work on a few expert stories and roundups a month, which usually involves interviewing experts and also a lot of clicking around shopping sites for deals.  

I imagine you get pitched on a tooooon of products in the wellness and sustainability space. How do you sift out the actual brands who walk the walk versus ones who are all talk?

It’s definitely not lost on me that the concept of urging people to buy things, even ones that are billed as “sustainable” and “eco-friendly,” is antithetical to the goal of buying and wasting less. I thought about that a lot when I worked on this eco-friendly gift guide recently, and chose to vet everything on whether it was sourced from recycled materials or if it would actually help you cut down on waste/energy usage over time (like smart sprinkler systems, compost bins, and reusable travel mugs). 

On top of that, I also called out brands that are mindful about sourcing from recycled materials, using a waste-free production process, and encouraging customers to return their used goods for repairs and resale. 

That’s a good blueprint for how I assess whether a brand is truly walking the walk, though of course you don’t always know the whole story. So many brands claiming to be “eco-friendly” could be more transparent about their sourcing and fabrication process. SELF is careful about using vague umbrella terms, too, and in the edit process, we were intentional about which things we described as “sustainable” versus something like “eco-friendly” — we also avoid using the term “green” completely because there’s just no way to define that. 

What is your team's product testing process like?

A big part of why I was brought on as a commerce editor was to shape what the testing process looked like for SELF. We have a few different layers baked in: As a science-backed brand, we make sure to ask experts for their input on whether something is actually effective or has potential health risks, but also to give recommendations on what to look for in a certain product category before calling things in. 

During the testing process, we aim for at least a week or two to get the full picture. Testing for every type of product is different, but you ideally want someone who is an expert in that realm — a dedicated runner, and not someone who hasn’t run since high school, testing running gear, for example — to put it through its paces. 

As a brand that focuses on accessibility and inclusivity, we also look at factors like sizing and price point and shade ranges to help us narrow down what types of products we’ll even consider. For our annual Fitness Awards, where we test a bunch of the latest fitness gear and apparel, we only review apparel that includes sizes up to an XL, and we also ensure that there are a number of extended-size apparel options that go up to at least 3X and bras for bigger bust sizes as well. 

We also test everything on a range of body types (here’s more info on that process). Similarly, for SELF’s Healthy Beauty Awards, we tested makeup/skin care on a variety of skin tones and skin types and had a panel of dermatologists weigh in. We also enlisted the help of reviewers with specific health conditions that affect your skin, like eczema or psoriasis, to make sure there were options for lots of people.  

Given the buzz around the “OK, Boomer” meme, recent climate change protest, and VSCO girl craze, almost everyone in media is starting to look down the road at the power Gen Z has over the discourse. I'm curious if you've noticed any Gen Z trends/buying habits that have started to influence your work? 

I know I’m not alone in saying that I’m simultaneously awed and frightened by teens. I appreciate their enthusiasm for ‘90s culture (a throwback to my youth), the fact that every teen I know is better at social media than me, and I hope I never get bird-dogged by one of them. Their style is also something that lots of us are trying to emulate: I’m obsessed with everything Kaia Gerber wears, and though I’m not a Brandy Meville girl, I still regularly trawl Urban Outfitters for cropped tops and baggy jackets—keeps me young. 

Bearing that in mind, SELF has covered certain athleisure trends before that have been popularized by Gen Z, like bucket hats and tie-dye. And with skincare and beauty being popular among teens, whenever I work on trend-spotting pieces, I sometimes look to the Skincare Addiction subreddit to see what the youths are buying (like Vichy creams and Taiwanese toners), or keep tabs on teen beauty bloggers on Youtube and Instagram, like my favorite, the “little mini MUA.” 

SELF has a large, very engaged Snapchat audience that’s mostly made up of people 23 years old and younger, and they LOVE the beauty and skincare posts we recirculate on our Discover channel. 

Now that it’s officially open season on ~holiday shopping~, we have to ask: Where do you go when shopping for your own family and friends??

I’m an absolute nightmare, and years ago, I had the nerve to send out a Christmas Google Doc of my wishlist to my family, with direct links to everything, and invited everyone else to join in. So that’s become a Keong family tradition. Very prescient for an online shopping editor, I think. The Google Doc cuts down on surprises for sure (though we still shop “off-list” every year), but we’re all at the age where we’d rather just know what we’re getting rather than buying and returning things no one needs. 

Generally, though, the MoMA design store has the best range of giftable items in one place: I’ve given Issey Miyake-esque scarves from there and kitchen things and little cloud-shaped nightlights for babies. That’s always a hit. 

Food 52’s shop is like a candy store: there are so many beautiful kitchen and home items there. And having jumped down every conceivable rabbit hole of weird things on Amazon from my Strategist days, I’ve made a lot of mental bookmarks on where to find kooky gifts. I bought my friend who’s a baker this cake cutter in the shape of a hand saw recently, and another friend with a cat this set of cat tarot cards (Delia, I hope you’re monetizing this newsletter).

[editor’s note: sadly, Deez Links does NOT collect a share of sales or compensation to links on this page just good vibes!!! But feel free to send us one of those nightlights if you are buying a bunch they look tight.]

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Don’t forget to follow Lori @ljkeong, and have a beauteous weekend!