Interview with Garrett Leight
September 12, 2012 - Interviews
With a lifetime’s worth of experience in eyewear, Garrett Leight has branched out from his father’s own Oliver Peoples just a few years ago, and is quickly creating his own legacy and style in the eyewear business with Garrett Leight Optical California. We had a chat with Garrett and discuss everything from musical tastes and his constant eyewear experimentations.
The Lovely Daze (TLZ): Can we start off with an introduction? Who you are? What you do? Quick background of yourself, all of that stuff.
Garrett Leight (GL):Garrett Leight, born and raised in Venice Beach, CA. The name of the brand is called Garrett Leight California Opitcal (GLCO), we’ve been on Abbot Kinney for 3 years now, and we launched our eyewear brand 2 years ago. I am the Designer, Creative Director, and I guess … CEO? That’s who I am.
TLZ: Can you describe the style or aesthetic of GLCO?
GL: The brand is about classic design, classic style, timeless type of eyewear. It is American inspired, English inspired, and it draws its inspiration from different characters throughout time. Generally people who fly under the radar, although I like characters like Steve McQueen’s style, its not people like Steve McQueen, more like the Arthur Millers the Hunter S. Thompsons, the weirdos, the freaks, they kind of have their own original style. It’s also about quality, its well made, high technology, mineral glass lenses from Italy, polarized lenses, German hinges. It is a combination of quality and style. Value, it is also a good price point. We try to create a brand in this economy that would offer value basically. It is about customer service, it is about having retail stores and good service and connecting with our customers.
TLZ: What is the vision of GLCO?
GL: I feel very much part of a new generation. GLCO is a new up and coming brand and at times is reacting to what the world has become, either online, or social media, or retail, and then making it our own. It is sort of just staying relevant for the future. The goal or plan is not the same process somebody would have done with an eyewear brand 20 years ago because we live in a different world. We’re just being youthful and paying attention to where the world is going.
TLZ: What do you think are the differences eyewear brands from the past and present?
GL: I think the obvious thing is that information travels faster. Online and being able to communicate your message and your DNA that way, making more videos, having a blog, showing where your inspiration comes from visually because people can connect to that really easily. Also having an Instagram so people can build a relationship with me, the designer, and my lifestyle. I take photos of my surroundings and that just translates well, whereas in the past the connection to the brands was probably just more product related.
Our product is there, but it is about utilizing the different venues we have available to us in this day and age. Just being more connected and sharing our vision with more of the public whereas everything was more mysterious in the past, which is romantic, but it is not necessarily the world we live in today. We try to be romantic, and it is more intimate by doing things like this or creating videos, which we’re starting to do online and showing “who is Garrett Leight?” or “who is “Karena Meyer?” who works in the store, or “who is Elena Doukas?” who is our other designer, just introducing our team and customers.
TLZ: Producing your vision is a lot faster in this day and age, isn’t it?
GL: Yeah, definitely in every way. Being able to communicate with your factories, customers, and everything. You can get things done a little faster these days.
TLZ: Is there a reason why GLCO is based out of Venice, other than the obvious fact you are from here, and not based somewhere like Downtown LA?
GL: The reason I chose Venice is mostly because this is where I’m from and this is the community I live in. I really connect to the people, they are very inspiring to me. It speaks more about what I was talking about with the characters, where a lot of our designs come from. I’m constantly inspired by the people here and the things they wear. A lot of customers and the people’s style I saw inspired the designs I made. So Venice just was a natural progression for me, from my previous job at Oliver Peoples and then I wanted to open my own store and Abbot Kinney just felt right, it had the vibe I was going for and it kept me inspired and I lived here, and I still live here and its where I wanted to open.
Now we’re opening a second store on La Brea, and we’re probably moving our offices to Downtown LA because I love it out there and I love the history. I’m super attracted to Los Angeles in general, not just the westside. I’m a huge John Fonte fan and Charles Bukowski, great authors that always wrote about Los Angeles. This is where I’m from and this is where the brand is from. It doesn’t mean we’re all things Venice, it’s Garrett Leight CALIFORNIA Optical, the whole state inspires me and my style.
TLZ: So Venice and California, in general, really reflects the company itself.
GL: It does. The “Venetian” of California is a good reflection of the customer. Maybe contrary to popular belief, there is great variety here in style. This community has evolved greatly over 20-30 years, it’s gone from a rough ghetto neighborhood to what it is today, and it still has that mix, we still have some projects, real locals that stand up for this community. It is a good representation, it’s not just Abbott Kinney, which I think a lot of people think of Venice today is, because they don’t really know.
TLZ: Can you describe your design process, everything from start to finish.
GL: A lot of times it comes from an image, it’s either a character or a frame I see or found, vintage usually, iconic classic styles. Then it is either drawn or sent to eyewear technical designer, a CAD is made, at that point we tweak it, and a prototype is made. Based off the prototype we decide if it is too big, too small. There is a lot of measurements that go into eyewear so really you try to get as close as you can from a visual and once you hit that prototype that’s your chance to make some corrections and then you get a tooling example, you approve that and start production. That’s pretty much it, except for the fun part where you’re picking out colors. With eyewear you always want to have your classic tortoises, but then trending colors, especially for women’s frames, or colors that attract you whether they’re purple, green, or gradients, colors of the earth, whatever you choose, but that’s the fun part.
TLZ: We read somewhere you like to experiment all the time, can you go a bit more into that? Are you doing more colors, styles, patterns? Different materials, new technologies?
GL: The experimental part takes place in our lab. Unlike most sunglass businesses today, we decided to create our own lab where we cut our prescriptions in, a lot of businesses do that, but that is a lot of the older ones that have been around for a long time. New sunglass businesses don’t really dive into it because it is really expensive and the whole learning curve, but it’s so hands on that we really wanted to participate in that kind of environment. What that also offered was custom dying, you can dye lenses, you can dye frames, just dipping plastic into a hot bin.
That’s the experimental part, custom color dyes on actual plastic frames and lenses, and we have matting machines so we can matte any frame. There’s different things we do all the time, like taking a vintage frame and fixing the shape by heating it up and cutting lenses in a certain way, altering the shape a little bit. Plastic when heated becomes really soft and you can change it how you want, that’s how we’re experimenting.
Each frame takes extra long, just to do one custom dyed frame could take 3 hours, to do the lens and frame for the drying and everything. It’s really more just like an art project almost, but it sells in store as well. The colors just make sense and they love it.
TLZ: We’re you doing small batch runs prior to opening the store?
GL: We’ve always customized frames ever since we had the ability to. Now we customize or own frames. We’ve always played with frames, changed shapes if we could/thought it would look good, dyed frames, we always refer to the store as a gallery, each of the pieces within the store is a piece of art to us that kind of changes like a gallery would.
TLZ: You have a team of 10 people, who are they and what do they do?
GL:It started with me and Adrian, who was a friend of mine from childhood, we grew up playing tennis together in Los Angeles, we we’re on the tennis circuit and we went to college together. He moved to Europe and I had this idea, he’s very technical, he works on old cars, I knew he would be a good asset and he is my best friend. I got him on and we opened up a store. It was just me and him in the store everyday and we started hiring. At first we worked with Becca Moon, who designs the shoes in our store. So her shoe company got a little bigger so she moved out and then I hired a girl named Elena, from Craigslist, and she is now my co-designer, she’s like my right hand, her and I do everything together, she’s fully involved.
It just kind of grew from there as the company grew. We’ve got a director of operations, we’ve got a financial and shipping departments, but it really is a family. You have to have all the pieces of the puzzle. I think we’re a really tight knit group and everyone loves coming to work everyday and we’re all genuinely interested in eyewear and starting a brand from the ground up. We’ve got our retail employees, like I said it’s a tight knit family. The originals are me, Adrian, and Elena, but most of the team is pretty original at this point because it’s only 2 years old.
TLZ: What’s next with GLCO?
GL: Most exciting thing maybe, aside from the new store that should be open in November, would be the Mark Mcnairy collection that we designed, developed, and are distributing, that will launch this fall in October, that’s exciting. We did a collaboration with another eyewear designer, which is pretty crazy you don’t really see that in any industry. He’s more of a women’s brand from Paris, and we have a similar storyline, not style, but our parents we’re both in eyewear. We just really hit it off, we sell his brand in the store and I think that got a lot of buzz, a lot of people are hyped on that. That’s launching this fall and we exclusively launched it with Colette already.
Of course our new line and collection, which is 5 new frames, which is exciting, cool, vintage inspired. Really pretty frames. That’s pretty much it through 2012, and then we have some definitely exciting things that I can’t tell you about because they’re really on the outskirts right now. Exciting plans for next summer.
I want to keep pushing boundaries, I’m not comfortable with having an eyewear brand and just selling in stores, I want to continually figure out what people want and need. Just keep pushing boundaries. Not just make frames and distribute them like a ketchup distributor. I shouldn’t relate ketchup to glasses, there’s a lot more personality, but I think you get the general idea. There’s a little more depth to the brand and a little more depth to my goals and ambitions. I really want to push my own boundaries that’s all.
TLZ: We read the GQ interview, and you mentioned you were trying to pursue music before this, what exactly we’re you trying to do?
GL: My whole life has been surrounded by music. My dad was basically a suffer hippy in Hawaii, he saw Hendrix perform Rainbow Bridge, so Classic Rock has always been in my life and it’s always in my rotation of music, whether it’s Zepplin or Stones or whatever, you know Crosby Stills and Nash, I’ve always loved music in general. Personally, I grew up in the Hip Hop generation, I’ve liked Hip Hop from the old East Coast stuff to West Coast, to Underground, to even, I don’t know what to call it today … some people call it ignorant. I’ve always connected to the sound and vibration of Hip Hop and Rap. In college, I was really into Roots and Reggae. I DJed and collected vinyl, kind of bought some Technics and spun on my own time or in my room.
TLZ: Are you still doing that kind of stuff now?
GL: No, my tables got stolen in a storage unit. Adrian is a DJ, so we’ll vibe out sometimes.
TLZ: What’s playing in your car/cd player/ipod right now?
GL: I was listening to Frank Ocean today.
TLZ: Favorite track on the Channel Orange album?
GL: It’s got to be that one … Thinking About You, it’s the popular one on it, but I really like it. That’s probably my favorite track its just a good track all around. That’s what’s in my player right now, it varies, but I always choose the music based on my mood. I’m exhausted today, so Frank Ocean is perfect and I don’t want to get hyped up. So tomorrow it could be something totally different, it will … I assume it will.
TLZ: Do you have tips for those who wear or are in the market for some glasses?
GL: Just don’t take yourself too seriously, try to figure out who you are, what you like, and just go with it, but make sure you feel comfortable in the frame. That’s the most important, because it goes on your face. It’s true though, if you don’t think you don’t look good in something it’ll show.
Don’t let anyone talk you into anything, unless you’re the type of person who really just trusts whoever you’re working with knows what they’re doing. Like in a shop like ours I consider our opticians stylists too, they’re really good at picking the right frame for people. It’s always something I’ve emphasized. It’s good to come into shops like ours, or other people do it great too, we’re not the only people, and listen.
But make up your own mind in the end if you can because your un-comfortability will show if you don’t like what the frame is that you wear on your face. There’s no wrong frame for anyone really as long as your happy with it.
TLZ: What would you say to anyone who would like to start their own company?
GL: I would definitely encourage them and I would say to keep grinding, it’s a grind. Keep your head up and keep chasing your dreams. You always think it going to get easier, but don’t assume it ever does, but it’s an exciting journey. I would definitely encourage people to do it, but not get frustrated and keep chasing your dreams. Never give up on your dreams for sure. Dream big.
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