Garrett Leight grew up in the eyewear industry. The founder of the Venice Beach-based eyewear brand Garrett Leight California Optical is also the son of Larry Leight, founder of eyewear brand Oliver Peoples. So it’s no surprise that his namesake brand has seen significant success. For example, it sells 65% direct, but it also sells in top luxury retailers including Bergdorf Goodman and Dover Street Market. What’s more, it’s collaborated with brands from JJJJound to Rimowa and opened nine stores. Its brand fans include Brad Pitt and Elton John.
Now approaching his brand’s 15th year in business, Leight still sees plenty of opportunities for growth and evolution. On the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast, Leight discusses the brand’s website refresh, set for January, as well as its next marketing play, focused on turning best-sellers into classics. Excerpts from the discussion, lightly edited for clarity, are below.
The silver lining of a recession
“When we launched in 2009, it was right after a big recession and the housing market crash. And everybody is always like, ‘How did you do that?’ But I’m starting to think that a lot of things come out of a recession— a lot of new ideas. I was 26, so I didn’t have any awareness of risk. I just needed a job, and I wanted to start my own company. [So it was like], ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ So when it comes to being new and launching a new idea in a recession, I advise it. I think it’s a good time. You just have to think differently about what’s not out there and what people would really want. … For us, during the pandemic, we were 10 or 11 years old. So it was certainly challenging. And post-pandemic, there’s a lot of conversation around new and exciting brands. … New and exciting seems to always be what the media wants to talk about, what buyers want to talk about — because they want to discover things. So we try to give them new reasons to discover us. But we’re 14 years old now, and you can never get that youth back. So for any listeners who are entrepreneurial and young and want to start something, now’s a great time. I wouldn’t let anybody tell you that it’s a recession or a pandemic, so don’t. That’s usually a parent’s point of view — especially a parent that maybe isn’t an entrepreneur. It’s a great time to do that now — much better than not now. But I’m biased.”
Not the Warby Parker model
“[Eyewear] has to be one of the more challenging products to sell online. Our return rate is pretty in line, though, with what we see from other categories — maybe a little higher, … given the category. Certainly, people will buy five frames and return four. But we don’t have a home try-on program, mostly for the fear of having to invest in all that inventory that you have to throw away … or donate. We never did home try-on, but we did do virtual try-on, and we’re probably going to bring it back. A lot’s changed in that space, in terms of quality. … It seems pretty good now. We’re launching a new website in January — the house is built, but we just need to put the furniture in. So we’re reshooting all of our content. But we’re not adding prescription online and not adding home try-on, at this time. I would imagine those are huge keys to success for, like, a Warby Parker. But I still feel that prescription is a pretty sensitive topic, and we like to get people into one of our stores or one of our wholesalers to navigate that. … We still believe those conversations are best had in the retail space. Warby Parker’s really become a retail-first kind of business, so they probably recognize that they need to build that audience in physical space.”
A newer classic
“Next year, I think we’ve gotten to a point in our business where we need to educate some of the newer audience as to why Garrett Leight is a good purchase. And the reality is that 75% of our frames are five styles. So it’s like the Levi’s 501 or Vans’ Authentic Shoe or Converse’s Chuck shoe. One of those strategies that you could look at would be to reach out to some fashion influencers to help educate that messaging of what we’re calling ‘forever classics,’ and drive that point home of why you might want to try Garrett Leight — and if you do, which frames to get that are ultimately the safest [best]. They’re timeless classics that you can keep and wear forever.”