Garrett Leight’s name may look familiar to those who closely follow fashion websites and blogs alike; the founder of Garrett Leight California Optical (GLCO) has been nabbing headlines for a few years now for eyewear that all the West Coast cool kids are sporting. (In 2012, GQ noted that “there was no brand more buzz-worthy in the men’s optic game…”)
Garrett, who is Mexican-American and hails from Venice, CA, may have only been in the business for four and a half years, but make no mistake – the young entrepreneur is not new to the field. In fact, he’s pretty much an eyewear scion; his father Larry Leight co-founded renowned luxury eyewear brand Oliver Peoples. Like most rebellious teens, Leight didn’t want to go into the family business at first, studying sports journalism instead. But it didn’t take long realize the work was in his blood.
In 2011, he launched his own namesake brand, and its quality and craftsmanship combined with dope designs quickly fueled major growth. Today, GLCO can be found at over 600 retailers around the world, as well as his own flagship store in LA, two locations in SF, and now, his very first East Coast store, which opened in NYC last week.
We caught up with Leight to learn a little more about the entrepreneur’s inspirations, connection to his Mexican roots, and favorite places to grab tacos.
Who is Garrett Leight?
Literally or Figuratively? Literally, Garrett Leight is a 31 year-old man – well, we’ll say boy – from Venice Beach. An entrepreneur, eyewear designer, father, husband, creative, and sports fanatic.
How much pressure do you feel to keep up the quality of Oliver Peoples?
A lot of pressure. Probably a lot more pressure than I’m aware of. I’ve always had pressure in my life in general from being an athlete, so I learned how to deal with that, and still excel at a high level. It’s different though when it comes to business and family. Fortunately, my dad sold his company in 2007, so it doesn’t feel as competitive because it’s not in the family anymore. I think that was a big stress reliever. But in the grand scheme of things, both of us have a brand in the industry – of course I want mine to be great, and I acknowledge that my father’s was one of the best of all time and will probably always be there. So there’s definitely pressure, but I’m pretty easy going. Life’s too short to be too stressed out.
Many people don’t know that you’re half Mexican. Is that background a big part of your cultural identity?
I’m very proud of my Mexican roots. My mom’s family is a big family and we’re close, we always spend holidays together. So I’m really in touch with that part of my identity, and of course obsessed with the food. I’m a total know-it-all when it comes to where to get the best Mexican food in Southern California. I’m almost snobby about it [laughs], even though I can’t cook. There’s all these little things I grew up on, like the chorizo my abuela would make – abuelita as she’d like me to call her. So yeah, it’s part of who I am.
I read somewhere that your spirit animal is the almighty carne asada taco. Can you elaborate on that?
[Laughs] Did I say that on my website? That just goes to show I don’t mess around when it comes to Mexican food. I’m very particular about my favorite places. Carne asada is definitely my go-to taco. I mean, Al Pastor is great, but in my opinion it’s better in Mexico and nobody else really does it right. So that’s why carne asada is my spirit animal, because it’s definitely my go-to.
What are some of your favorite spots to get Mexican food?
La Isla Bonita, which is on Rose. They have a ceviche tostada that is insane, but the carne asada taco there is really good. And there’s a place downtown on the corner of 7th and Santa Fe, it used to be outside and then they got in trouble because they didn’t have permits, so now it’s inside this Mexican market.
How did it feel to be called a “Brand to Follow” by GQ?
It’s hard to believe. In the most endearing way that this can come across, it almost felt like they didn’t know what they were talking about [laughs]. It’s also super flattering and great. Esquire magazine featured me in their Style issue, and I was one of 20 people alongside Theophilus [London] and Victor Cruz, and it was so surreal, literally my brain couldn’t fathom it. I think I’m also fortunate that my industry is kind of older, so it’s probably thirsty for a youthful character and I’m happy to be that person.
Your brand is very closely tied to California, and you just opened your first East Coast store – how do you plan to get accepted by the NY crowd?
I think the West Coast part plays a role only in the way that we carry ourselves and deal with people – we’re very laid back, and we’re here to help people create a great product that will look good on you and last a long time. We have a great staff that’s very helpful and that just wants you to be happy – and that’s sort of that West Coast laid back attitude. When it comes to NY we’re not trying to do anything that isn’t already here, if anything we’re trying to find a way that we can embrace the community with a California lens.