By Lynsey Eaton | Photography by Danielle Sabol
The Garrett Leight California Optical pop up shop at Forty Five Ten is officially up and running. As fans of the California based brand, we had Lynsey run down on the date it opened to meet up with the California cool founder himself to chat newborns, eyewear and what he thinks about Dallas.
Lynsey Eaton: First of all, you have a three month old. How are you here?!
Garrett Leight: He was born in December and I’ve been on the road, not constantly, but this is my fourth time in Dallas in two months. It’s always for, like, 24 hours. Because I have kids, I just do what I need to do and then I will go home. The plane is just my bus. I’ll take an overnight to New York from LA, have meetings and then fly overnight if I have to.
LE: You and Katie are the same person.
GL: This is my last trip for awhile. My birthday is next week. My wife and I are going on a little mini-vacation. No kids. Which is actually probably going to be super stressful and I wish we were just bringing them because of the guilt. But then I’m not going anywhere. Literally, I am so done.
And our store, which we are opening here, I found out is going to be a little bit delayed which is great. We’ll open after the heat in September. So that’s great news, too. As much as I love Dallas, I won’t be back here probably until August.
LE: Well, what’s great about it from a realistic standpoint is when it’s hot nobody does anything.
GL: That’s what they sort of told me. They said, “Don’t open in July or August because nobody’s here.”
LE: So the new store, that’s where?
GL: On Knox. Right next to the Apple store.
LE: That’s a great location.
GL: I think so. I love it. I’ve been coming to Dallas for five years for various reasons while researching secondary markets – not counting LA or New York. I just felt like Dallas was the only one that would even come close to understanding or consuming what I make.
GL: I just feel like people here, if they like something they want to be out there, they want to talk about it, they want to inform other people about it. No matter what it is. Whether it’s a restaurant, or a jacket, or a pair of sunglasses. And that’s not happening everywhere.
I believe in retail. We have four of our own retail stores and we’re opening in London, and I know that’s gonna be a no brainer. But I need to test a secondary market because I’d love to be in Portland. I’d love to be in Seattle. We actually are opening Austin, that’s like a done deal.
LE: That seems like an obvious one to me.
GL: That’s a no-brainer. Very obvious. But with Dallas, I just want to see if major cities will react.
LE: It’s interesting that you say that because the one thing I noticed when we moved here to Dallas – we’ve lived a lot of places, including New York and LA – was how supportive this community is of, not just local businesses, but whatever they like they are overly supportive of it.
GL: Via word of mouth. Which is the strongest. You have to do that. And we have a great collection, but we just excel at an optical retail experience. The language. The way we talk to our customers. Vision is a sensitive thing. Yes, we have the fashion sunglass side of it, but we are also going to have a lab, we do prescriptions.
LE: How much of your business is optical?
GL: Like 50%. Which people don’t realize that.
LE: Really?! Maybe I’m just a huge optical customer. Maybe that’s why that is surprising to me.
GL: It’s also just a result of the era, too. You can’t control the message as much because there’s so much conversation going on with social media. So young girls are wearing it, and influencers, and all you ever hear about is the collection at Barneys and Bergdorfs. So a lot of that technical message can get lost.
LE: I feel like the market now is that people don’t just want to buy product anymore. They want to buy the brand.
GL: For sure. It’s not just about the product anymore. It’s not 1985 and you just go with product and people just buy it. Everything’s been done. So the only way to differentiate yourself is to have a really good point of view and a good brand and communicate that message. So I do it in stores, but I also do it for wholesalers. I always want my experience to be my experience.
LE: So then what’s your point of view? If you had to describe it, what is your elevator pitch?
GL: I think most people know that my father founded Oliver Peoples, so I come from an optical family that changed the whole industry. And I worked there and learned a lot there. I’m a second generation eyewear person who is obsessed with all things California. It’s very much in our DNA. It’s a different generation. It’s a little younger, cooler, prettier, Venice Beach inspired brand with a major background and specialization in making perfect eyewear.
LE: So did you have a choice? Or was it you were just always going to go into eyewear? In your head was this always the direction you were headed?
GL: No. I was a division one tennis player, scholarship…
LE: Of course you were. That makes total sense.
GL: And then I went to college and realized I was never going to be a professional tennis player. So from 19 to 22 I just partied and listened to other people and realized life wasn’t all about sheltered tennis life. Then I really didn’t want to work for Oliver Peoples and all I wanted to do was be a DJ.
LE: Oh my god. You were living a dream life!
GL: Then of course, my dad was like, just giving me that dad pressure.
LE: Ugh. Dad pressure.
GL: Yeah, then I got dad pressure to come work for him. And that was actually the romantic part, I just fell in love with the company. Not necessarily eyewear. I just fell in love with the community of people that worked there for 20-25 years and I was like, I need to work somewhere for the rest of my life and I don’t want it to be here. I want it to be where I want to be for 25 years. And I want to listen to my music in my office with my generation of people. With my vision. So I just opened a store and started making shit.
LE: Wait. That’s how this happened?! You just opened a store…
GL: I opened a store on Abbot Kinney eight years ago. I worked in it everyday for two years selling glasses and learning prescription. Everything was sort of working. We were just interesting. I had a good story and a good collection. That’s it. That’s our story. Our VH1 true life.
LE: Your VH1 True Life: How to start an eyewear company.
GL: Reverse engineer it. Reverse engineer what you like.
LE: That’s how you should do everything though.
GL: Kind of! That’s totally true.
LE: This is a question we ask everyone. But if you could only produce one pair out of your entire collection, what would it be?
GL: It would have to be the Kinney because it makes us the most money and has the most chance of lasting the longest period of time. So if I could never make another pair of glasses, I’d have to pick the one that makes the most money because otherwise I’d go out of business…
LE: That was smart.
GL: It’s the frame I’m wearing. It’s just timeless. It doesn’t ever have to go out of style. It’s not going to be trending always but it’s clean and it works for optical and for sun. You didn’t ask my favorite frame…
LE: You’re right. But most people pick their favorite frame. But you’re right, it’s a different question. So where is the pop-up here at Forty Five Ten?
GL: It’s on Third Floor Men’s. It should be done any minute now…
Located at Forty Five Ten on Main Street, the Garrett Leight pop-up shop will be positioned on the men’s floor and will be open until May 31, 2017. In addition to a curated selection of the brand’s best sellers and new Spring/Summer 2017 styles, the pop up will exclusively debut the Nick Wooster x Garrett Leight collaboration collection. Wooster, who currently holds the position of Forty Five Ten’s Men’s Fashion Director, partnered with Garrett Leight to create a limited-edition sunglass inspired by his discerning and internationally influential sense of style.