Photography by Duy Nguyen
April 22 2015
Three years ago we were exploring the stores along Abbot Kinney in Venice California, and we stumbled upon a great looking optical store, which turned out to be GLCO. We had heard of Garrett Leight’s eyewear because of an early collaboration that he did. The vibe of the A. Kinney Court store was awesome, and the experience was super positive–not to mention the selection of well-crafted specs. We left wanting to know more, so we researched the line and ended up bringing it in at Need Supply Co. We had the opportunity to feature Garrett in the second issue of the Human Being Journal.
What was it was like growing up around opticals? Did you always think you’d go into this business?
To me growing up with parents working in the optical and fashion industry was probably no different than what it was like for a kid growing up with parents that work in any creative industry. I always just thought that my parents had a cool career, but I was just mostly focused on being an adolescent. I never thought I would be in this business. I was always into competitive sports and spent more than half of my life playing tennis. I went to college on a tennis scholarship. So what I really dreamed about was winning Wimbledon. That was all that mattered to me up until I was about 18. I was always very imaginative about what my pro tennis career would look like, so creativity has always been in my mind.
Why did you open your first store in Venice?
When my parents split when I was five, my mom moved to Venice because it was the only place we could afford. Venice was my childhood. It’s where I went to elementary school, where my friends were, it’s my home. When I left college in 2006, I moved to West LA, Brentwood to be exact. But anytime I went out, I found myself in Venice, on Abbot Kinney. I just connected to the people, the style, the energy. When I started conceptualizing my store, there was no way I was opening anywhere else but Abbot Kinney.
What was your tipping point? At what point did people really start to notice the brand and your products?
I don’t know really. It started as just a great retail environment where myself and two friends worked and owned. We loved our customers and loved what we were doing, so locals took notice right away. We launched the Garrett Leight brand in 2011, and I feel like maybe right now people are starting to notice more than ever. I don’t think about it too much, I feel like we’re just focused on creating my vision, and if my team believes in my vision the way that I do, then inevitably more and more people will take notice. For me it’s not about notoriety, it’s about making people happy by offering them a product with great value because it has timeless quality and style.
How do your friendships influence your brand and the products you create?
The people that I care about are everything to me. They inspire me and they help me in ways they don’t even realize. My relationships with other people are what help me understand how people are different and what different individuals value. I’m a reflection of the most important people in my life.
What’s the best place to eat in Venice?
Doesn’t matter how cliche this is, the answer is Gjelina. Travis is an unbelievable chef, and it goes beyond just how the food tastes, which of course is phenomenal. It’s also the presentation. I love food and have been fortunate enough to eat my fair share of incredible meals. At the end of the day, Gjelina never ceases to make me happy. Everything on the menu is done the way it’s supposed to be done.
Can you tell us about your creative process and how you come up with new shapes?
I can’t take all the credit here. If I had to give out titles, mine would be Creative Director and Elena Doukas’ would be Head of Design. We both bring things to the table. And almost always it’s from an image of a character that we like. For example, Arthur Miller, Hunter S. Thompson, Jackie O., Audrey Hepburn…the list goes on. At that point we try to find a reference frame. Usually a vintage frame that is close to the image we saw in the picture. I have a vision for what the collection is supposed to look like in general, so it keeps Elena and myself focused on what types of shapes work for Garrett Leight California Optical. Because we love eyewear, it can be frustrating when you like something but you know its off brand. It’s one of the reasons why we recently decided to license Mark McNairy Eyes. It gives us an opportunity to create a slightly different design DNA. The best thing about being inspired by real individuals from our history is that it gives the frame character. I feel like we know who our customer is, and identifying a frame with an author, artist, or musician from the past allows our creations to find our customers easier.
What are some of your greatest successes and failures to date?
My greatest success is that I love my wife and I love my career. If I can continue to feel this way for the rest of my life, then in my opinion you can’t be more successful. My greatest failure was the business I started after I left Oliver Peoples and before I opened A. Kinney Court. It was an eyewear design & development agency. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world, my company today would not be successful without that experience as I would not have realized my strengths and weaknesses as well as what it feels like to fail. You can’t have success without failure.
Are you systematic or chaotic?
I believe in structure so my business is systematic, but personally I am all over the place. My brain doesn’t stop and I am always thinking of ideas, and I rarely write them down. Fortunately, I remember the important ones and tell people who write them down.
What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday?
From September – January I watch football all day. From February – August we do whatever my wife wishes. It makes up for all the wasted Sundays in the second half of the year.
Do you surf?
How do you see the Garrett Leight brand evolving over the next five years? Do you have specific goals for it?
I know this might sound crazy but I do what I do because I want to change the world. The ultimate goal is to be the most valuable brand the eyewear industry has ever seen, by doing exactly that, bringing value to the end customer. To do that you have to do a number of things correctly. At this brand, that’s what we’re trying to do, be the best and contribute to the change of the entire landscape of the optical industry.