Move Over, Martha: This Is Danny Seo Living
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if you’re looking for a more subtle take on the eco-living movement, this might be your man.
By Constance C. R. White
Sometimes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, you can spot Danny Seo flipping a heap of compost or chopping firewood before he slips back into his home office for a conference call and to oversee a burgeoning empire of eco-friendly products. Seo is devoted to living the green life, though he’s not opposed to making green in other ways, either.
In 2015, Seo (pronounced See-oh) plans to launch a new fragrance to add to the three already available through HSN, and he’s working on a collection of countertops for Wilsonart. He also has a line of organic wines and six books on living green. But Seo, who sometimes shares his advice on the Today show (did you catch his “upcycling” segment?), is taking his earth-friendly brand to the next level with a new magazine, which launched this summer and is ramping up in frequency next year.
Called Naturally, Danny Seo, and printed on recycled paper, of course, the magazine feels lush and doesn’t scream sustainable living. “That was on purpose,” says Seo. “We don’t use the word ‘eco-friendly.’” Flip through an issue, which costs just shy of 10 bucks on stands, and readers will find esoteric photo spreads that look more like a Condé Nast mag than many of the typical green publications with their granola recipes and stories about Reiki. Instead of features on weight-loss tips, there’s a tour of a Tahitian vanilla farm and a spread on stunning reclaimed jewelry.
With a birthday any publicist would love — April 22, aka Earth Day — Seo says he identified as an environmental activist early on. When he was 12, he founded Earth 2000, a global grassroots campaign for kids that grew to some 25,000 members. Before he turned 30, Seo had been named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” become editor-at-large of Organic Style magazine, published three books, designed his own men’s clothing line and launched the Humane Society’s successful fur-free campaign. To some degree, he always stood out in his family of five. He was the youngest, and while his older brother and sister were both high school valedictorians and attended UPenn and Wellesley College, respectively, Seo showed little interest in college. (He never got into one.) Now 37, the lone vegan in his family has a cherubic face, and a friendly but sophisticated demeanor that makes his dishing out on sustainability easy to swallow.
For years, Seo wanted to launch a magazine for the reader “who lives a life that’s very experiential rather than materialistic,” and he decided 2014 was an opportune time. Yet more than 140 magazines have launched in 2014 — while 65 have closed, MediaFinder says. Meanwhile, newsstand sales of consumer mags dropped 12 percent in the first half of 2014, the Alliance for Audited Media says. “It’s always difficult to launch a magazine,” says John Harrington, a publishing industry consultant. “The majority don’t last more than a year, if that.” And despite its seemingly strong presence, the whole concept of eco-living has yet to catch on the way experts thought — and retailers hoped — it would years ago. “We learned early on that a lot of the customers say that they are interested in sustainable issues [and] the environment, but that’s not what’s going to get them to buy products,” says fashion consultant Julie Gilhart.
Even so, Seo is pushing ahead — with some major supporters. For Ben Harris, president of Harris Publications, Seo’s increasing celebrity, built-in ties to sponsors and advertisers, and the growing interest in sustainability make him a good bet. “Print is not dead,” says Harris, who’s an equal partner in Seo’s venture. Indeed, Seo managed to pull in ads from luxury watchmaker Movado featuring Scandal star Kerry Washington, whose home makeovers by Seo have been promoted by E! and even Oprah. Collectively, the efforts seem to be paying off. Seo says the second issue of his magazine, the winter 2015 edition, sold 70 percent of its 350,000-print run.
It’s still early days, though Seo plans to increase his magazine’s frequency to six issues in 2015, up from two this year. He also recently launched his own lifestyle site, and he and Harris say a regularly scheduled television program could be the next step. But the memory of his early academic struggles and a first book that by his own admission was “poorly written” and, in fact, “terrible” has tempered Seo. “Every success and every failure was my own,” he says.
Meghan Walsh contributed reporting.