Don't Hate on China
The Man Who Made Luxury California Eyewear Affordable
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Chinese manufacturing has gained an unpleasant connotation in the United States in recent years. In spite of this, there are a number of high-end brands looking to change the public’s perceptions. “If you know how to make something there’s only two ways: either the right way or the wrong way,” said Garrett Leight, whose eponymous eyewear brand is manufactured overseas. “I proudly make it in China.”
Leight’s brand encapsulates cool, laid-back California vibes in a range of sunglasses and eyeglasses, and has become wildly popular in the past few years. “I wanted to offer something at a better price point that had the equivalent style and quality of higher-price brands,” he said. “When we first launched, our entry level was $220.”
For Leight, eyewear was something of a birthright. His father, Larry Leight, founded luxury eyewear brand Oliver Peoples in 1986. The younger Leight’s early memories of the industry revolve around the Oliver Peoples store on Sunset, where he spent time as a child. “At the time, Oliver Peoples was one of the last standing really successful eyewear brands that wasn’t owned by Luxottica or Safilo or Marchon,” Leight noted. The company was sold to Oakley in 2005, and Oakley was subsequently swallowed up by Luxottica. After attending college on a Division I tennis scholarship, Leight began to work for his father in early 2007, and was immersed in a close-knit culture of employees who had been with the company for over 20 years.
After two years with Oliver Peoples, Leight set out on his own, opening an eyewear store on Abbot Kinney in Venice, in November 2009. “I think I was part of this generation that saw an opportunity for something new, with its own original point of view, that wasn’t part of the major corporate conglomerate companies,” Leight said, of his decision to found an independent eyewear brand. In early 2011, Garrett Leight eyewear went to market with frames that channeled the light, sunny, youthful qualities of Los Angeles. “We’re ambassadors of California,” he said. At the time, there weren’t high-end eyewear brands representing the Golden State. The distinct frames are hand finished with a beveled edge and feature hinges with real rivets. To reinforce the brand, Leight created a magazine that “just oozes California lifestyle,” called Spectacle, to explore style, history, food and art, among other things. “I feel like storytelling is such a huge part of building a brand,” he added.
Garrett Leight now has stores in San Francisco and New York, but retail expansion has slowed to accommodate Leight’s latest project with his father. “We’re launching a new brand called Mr. Leight,” he said. Larry Leight joined forces with his son on a fully made-in-Japan brand after leaving Oliver Peoples in early 2016. While Garrett Leight has built a clientele of celebrities, actors and musicians with a youthful California energy, Mr. Leight looks to reach a new audience with a more mysterious aesthetic. “It’s a little bit more feminine, it’s a little older, it’s more expensive,” Leight said. “I think Garrett Leight would be defined as contemporary, where this is true luxury.” On shelves in April, the brand not only represents the joining of two generations, but Leight’s own path in the eyewear industry coming full circle.