Interview: Garrett Leight, designer and founder of GLCO

Just five years in, the young California eyewear label is just getting started.
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Photo: Nicholas Maggio

Photo: Nicholas Maggio

Garrett Leight is the consummate California eyewear brand, with details that remind us of a past era while continuing to redefine what’s next. Their attention to detail is what intrigues us the most, along with a laid back style and great collaborations. Their namesake is a person who generally likes his brand to speak for itself, but we had the chance to catch up with him and ask a few pressing questions about his motivations and inspirations.

Did you grow up close to the field? Was it something your parents shared their passion for with you?

I grew up pretty close to the field in the sense that I remember going to a few trade shows when I was really young, mostly in New York and in Las Vegas. However, either because of my personality or because I grew up surrounded by it, I didn't really care about it. It was always what my parents did and that was about it. Probably like most kids, I was just interested in being a kid. I played sports and hung out with my friends, and that was my focus.

The Kinney (Photo: GLCO)

The Kinney (Photo: GLCO)

What were you doing before you got into glasses?

I was a journalism major at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. I love to write and I always have. I wrote for my college newspaper, mostly sports journalism and some arts and culture as well. I was a major tennis player; in fact, I was invited to go to Cal Poly on a tennis scholarship. Once I graduated College, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I went to work for Oliver Peoples.

What other industries, products and brands most inspire your ideas?

Technically, any industry can inspire my ideas because almost all have an element of service which ties into their operations and experience. I'm always interested in having passionate conversations about any industry and what companies within that industry can do to make it better. I would say I am actively inspired by the tech industry and fashion industry, as I'm mostly reading magazines and books related to those. Some of my favorite brands include Tesla, Apple, Nike, and Ralph Lauren.

The Van Buren (Photo: GLCO)

The Van Buren (Photo: GLCO)

Who would you consider your design icons?

I'd have to say Steve Jobs. Although he wasn't liked by everyone, he stood up for what he believed in. From an ideation stand point, he was arguably the best that ever lived. He died too young, but he accomplished so much. I also find my father to be incredibly inspiring. I've never seen anybody who equally values their love for design, specifically eyewear design, with their love for their family and their hobby, which for him, happens to be surfing. He's always been so passionate about eyewear, it’s incredible to witness.

What are your passions outside of GLCO?

Of course my family is number one—my wife and my daughter. And to be honest, I'm a sports nut. I never miss a big game, whether it’s the Super Bowl or the Masters. I love my LA teams and I try to support them as much as possible. I like to play basketball when I can. I'm also passionate about vacations, but who isn't?

The Van Buren, folded.  (Photo: GLCO)

The Van Buren, folded.  (Photo: GLCO)

Is California a big factor in your work? Would it be the same brand if based in NYC or Paris?

California is the biggest factor in why I am the way that I am. Everything would be completely different if I were not a Californian. I love this state, and it completely inspires me to do everything that I do. It informs the frame designs, the brand’s DNA, and the company culture. GLCO would be completely different if I were Parisian.

How would you describe the Garrett Leight California Optical customer?

Confident with classic style. The GLCO customer doesn’t need that affirmation from others that they look good. Of course they like it—we all love compliments—but they don't need it. A GLCO customer knows what’s cool and knows why it’s cool. They can figure out their taste on their own and proudly show it because the product fits within their values. If you value quality and style, and associate with our brand, then you know we are the brand for you. You don't need your girlfriend or boyfriend to tell you which frames look best on you.

GLCO x Mark McNairy Pinehurst (Photo: GLCO)

GLCO x Mark McNairy Pinehurst (Photo: GLCO)

What would you consider some iconic moments for glasses?

Well, coming from the generation I come from, it has to be the RUN DMC Goliath glasses. They really took a sound and connected it to a style that is forever ingrained in history as an iconic moment. In terms of design, we generally pull from the Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Dean era. Each of those guys definitely created iconic eyewear moments of their own. But being the music lover that I am, tying a look to a sound is epic.

Any big plans with the brands, ideas that you'd like to see come to life?

I can't share specific details, but we do have some exciting things in the works, most of which will be coming to life this year. Our San Francisco store is set to open in July, which we’re really excited about. I think we can do some pretty special things in this industry, so I will say that my plans are big, I just don't want to give them all away right now. Stay tuned!

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