Ten years ago, eyewear entrepreneur Garrett Leight opened his first boutique on Abbott Kinney, the now-bustling thoroughfare in the Venice neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Leight spent the next decade building a brand celebrated for its commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and innovation, and inflected with a sun-soaked California spirit. This week, Leight opened his first location outside the US in Toronto on bustling Queen St. West, a neighbourhood reminiscent of Venice’s bohemian spirit and eclectic energy.
Here, Leight tells Sharp about his love for Toronto, eyewear trends, and his favourite frames.
What’s the story behind the brand?
I grew up in the industry. My family started Oliver Peoples and I worked there 15 years ago. At the time, my father had sold the business and I fell in love with the environment. So many people that worked there really truly loved him and the family business. At first it wasn’t necessarily glasses, it was the idea of being an entrepreneur and being able to build your own environment that you get to work in on a daily basis around people that you genuinely care about who don’t treat Mondays like Mondays.
I was living in Venice at the time, which is where I was born and raised. Abbot Kinney in 2009 wasn’t yet happening but I felt like it was. As a member of the community I noticed that we didn’t have an optician. In 2009, I opened the store in Venice, and we hired local Venice people, we trained them to become opticians. We sold books, music, apparel, eyewear, we were doing prescription lenses, and it just really took off from the beginning. What we would do is we had this blog and we would throw parties in the back area there and everyone from the area would come and we would just share it. And we kinda just took this brand, this Southern California DNA and turned it into a product, a whole lifestyle and sold that to the world by travelling and opening up.
Why Toronto for your first store outside of the US?
Soho is one of our most successful stores and Venice is as well. Toronto just felt like those neighbourhoods, like that Queen Street West vibe there with the kinds of restaurants, people, stores, hotels. It just really reminded me of that same vibe.
Will Toronto get any sort of exclusive city styles? Are you planning any collaborations with local artists?
Hopefully in 2022 spring/summer we’ll develop custom product just for the Toronto market. For now, we’ll focus on appreciating the neighbourhood and trying to amplify the voices there as much as possible through the media that we’ve created on our website, whether it’s custom storytelling about these creatives, artists, musicians, stores, hotels, where to go, where to eat, align ourselves with the community.
Our managers have always worked at the store for very long periods of time. When we find the right ones, they’re usually almost always major lovers of that neighbourhood or hometown, and I believe that’s the case with our Toronto store.
What’s your favourite pair of GLCO glasses?
I have so many glasses! Every season I want the new collection. I’m wearing tube frames right now, our Kinney X. We just had our ten year anniversary and X is the Roman numeral ten. And we took our most iconic, or bestselling, frame and created these really thick side pieces on it and I really love the way it looks, and that’s one of my favourites.
We also have a collaboration that we do with my dad that’s called Mr. Leight; it’s a seasonal eyewear collaboration made in Japan and it’s even more expensive. I find myself gravitating towards those often. Crosbys and Coopers are probably the frames I wear the most.
What are some trends in 2021 we should be on the lookout for?
People are really into very thick frames. Thick acetate frames, thicker temples, wider end pieces. When we launched 10 years ago, we kind of capitalised on the very very thin look because it’s actually very difficult to make a thin frame high quality if you don’t know what you’re doing. Light lenses have been really in, like light colours like pink yellow and orange hues.
Classic frames or something, pardon the pun, more eye-catching?
I gravitate towards a very simple classic look that I know is timeless and not too distracting and an occasional peacock vibe. More fashion forward. Don’t want to make the special occasion a daily occurrence.
Garrett Leight Queen West is open by appointment at 692 Queen St W or shop online at garrettleightqueenwest.ca.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.