Hey everyone! Noah Raf here (Co-Founder of Madhappy). Got to sit down with our latest local optimist, Garrett Leight – a great person and founder of Garrett Leight and Company. We recently met Garrett as our HQs are close to each other and have enjoyed learning about his life and business journey. He’s built a global eyewear brand with hundreds of retailers and is focused on creating a long lasting imprint on the industry. We hope you enjoy!
Garrett Leight was born in Los Angeles in 1984, immersed in the eyewear and fashion industries as the son of the Founder & Creative Director of Oliver Peoples. Garrett grew up playing competitive tennis and attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, graduating with a degree in Journalism. After college he worked at Oliver Peoples, observing firsthand the development of his father’s iconic designs and brand building techniques. In 2009, he opened his first eyewear concept store, A. Kinney Court in Venice Beach, offering a curated assortment of hand-selected goods from his hometown. The store was the first of its kind, combing the knowledge and service of licensed opticians with the styling of a fashion boutique.
Garrett currently resides in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife Marina, daughter, Ila, and son, Louie. In his free time he enjoys hanging out with his family and playing golf.
How did you go from studying journalism in school to starting your first eyewear store (A Kinney Court) and then eventually launching GLCO?
It was a family affair really. After a short stint in the music industry I decided to take my father up on his offer to work at his company Oliver Peoples. They were going through a corporate restructuring with the sale of the company to Luxottica. So while I learned a lot there, the corporate environment wasn't for me at that time. I decided after three years there to start my own retail experience on Abbot Kinney and just go for it. At the same time I started developing my own collection and launched that in 2010.
We’ve heard you mention that you were developing eyewear for streetwear brands – what did you mean by this? How did this play a role in what ended up being the early days of GLCO?
In between leaving Oliver Peoples and opening the store in Venice I launched a private label eyewear development company and my clients were The Hundreds, Black Scale, and Crooks & Castles. I helped them bring a few ideas to market. It basically was grad school for me in terms of eyewear development and business development. I learned as much or more about myself in that 2 years than any time in my life. When I launched GLCO I knew my strengths and weaknesses because of that experience, so I knew what type of people I needed to hire in order to get to where I wanted to go.
How would you define the brand and messaging as a whole?
The brand is a journey of me and my vision as I grow older. I launched it when I was 26 and now it's been nearly ten years and I've evolved. It's sort of like a human experiment through art, business, brand development, entrepreneurism, and consumerism in general. Our message is that we are unabashedly Californian and specifically hailing from Venice where I am from originally and live today. Our message is that a California energy is a positive feeling that can contribute to the greater good of people's well being. We choose to share that message thru vision and specifically eyewear design. But we are more than a product in my eyes. Being loyal to us means participating in something that is authentic and real for better or worse, because it's my creation. And I value my customers, and I value my employees, my family, myself, our story, and our home town and it shows in the brand.
Switching gears a bit - What was your first encounter with mental health? Either personal or with family / friends?
I guess it would be my mother who is now almost 30 years sober. I wouldn't have defined it as mental health at the time, and perhaps its more physical than mental, but it definitely involves the mind. I basically grew up in AA. I heard a lot of stories in those meetings as a kid and I've been aware for a long time that life is fucking hard. And that everyone deals with difficult emotions and hardships and no one is excluded and no one has the right answers and the right answers are different for everyone. It's a process. And for some with age comes wisdom, and you learn that you need to make an effort to deal with these demons and that it's not going to just come naturally.
While building your business to hundreds of retailers worldwide and your own flagship stores - did you have challenges dealing with the stresses of being an entrepreneur? How did you manage these?
I love what I do and I always have. Being an entrepreneur is perfect for me. I like big ideas and I like to chase those through strategic conversation, and collaboration with peers, and eventually executing those. I'm starting to think that work does not and has never really stressed me out. I have a tremendous amount of belief in myself when it comes to my career. I feel I have a knack for surrounding myself with great people who care about the same things that I care about and ultimately care about me. I'm not afraid of failure because every crisis creates an opportunity. The stress of being an entrepreneur for me would be external, meaning having haters and doubters. And quite frankly I welcome that shit. That lights my fire. It's more stressful for me when everything is peachy. So I guess I manage the stresses of being an entrepreneur by staying busy. I'm never really not thinking about how we can be better.
How do you think about the messaging you and the brand have when speaking to the younger generation of consumers?
Once again, we're just honest. And social media has helped because I ran the "brand" Instagram when Instagram launched. Like real talk, I was high as hell at a bachelor party in Vegas 10 years ago posting nonsense at the same time launching my collection. So, I don't think I've ever done anything but be me and without having to say it in the past, we just show people that you can be yourself and be successful. Now, that's dangerous because unfortunately not everyones natural self is popular, or likeable, or sellable. But for that, I go back to my statement about when I learned my weaknesses through launching my eyewear development company. You gotta be self aware and honest with yourself. You can still achieve success, but you may not be the personality for the face of the brand, or maybe you are but you are not the right person to be running the business, or designing the product. It takes a team anyway. You just have to be self aware and know when to move on.
What is your vision for GLCO over the next 10 years?
I want to grow because we are a great group of people creating an honest brand that values quality, service, style, and community. We offer something great so we deserve to affect a bigger audience rather than corporate monopolies taking the share of the consumers money. I hope to do this thru retail and e-commerce. I'd love to have fifty stores globally and a great online business. Whatever it takes to get good people a great experience. I'd also like to expand our product categories. We've done really well with ancillary products like hats, chairs, beach towels, coffee mugs, etc. And we're donating a portion of those profits to various charities mostly revolving around equality, sustainability, and gun control because those are three things I care about. I hope we can be a part of the change I'd like to see in the world.
Favorite Madhappy item?
Black Heavy Tee. Just a great cut for me.
Who’s your role model?
Who would headline at your music festival?
I mean if I get to create a music experience Outkast & Kanye are playing the Greek Theatre, tickets are $1500 and Dave Chappelle is hosting the intro and intermission. But if I'm throwing a festival, than Billie Eilish because I want to make money, and I don't like festivals and I could at least be on stage watching her incredible music.
If you had a billboard that everyone in the world could read, what would it say?
GET FREE before its too late.
What makes you Madhappy?
My kids jumping on me when I walk in the door from work.