- Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Barneys New York
- Garrett Leight, the founder, CEO, and Creative Director of luxury eyewear company Garrett Leight California Optics, used to sell his products in Barneys.
- Barneys was one of his first introductions to the mass retail market, and Leight said it was “surreal” that the retailer was closing down.
- But at the same time, Leight said he wasn’t suprised. He said the retailer failed to establish an “identity” to connect with younger buyers, and that this should be a lesson for other big department stores.
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If anyone is feeling the impact of Barneys’ recent shutdown, it’s Garrett Leight, the 35-year-old luxury eyewear designer who sold his brand, Garrett Leight California Optics (GLCO), at the once-esteemed retailer.
“Barneys is such a big part of my life,” Leight said in an interview with Business Insider. “When I launched [GLCO], it was like, ‘we want to open in Colette and Barneys,’ and that was all.”
Leight’s father, Larry Leight, is the founder of the high-end eyewear brand Oliver Peoples, which also sells in Barneys. Leight recalls that, while growing up in Venice, California, he would be surrounded by the iconic black bags and watch as his father conducted business with the retailer.
If anything, it was a dream come true once Leight’s own eyewear brand (which has been sported by household names, from Jeff Bezos to Brad Pitt) finally made its first shipment to the department store. Leight’s eyewear brand launched in 2009 and officially debuted at Barneys in 2011.
“There’s this whole intimate experience about opening [in] Barneys, and it was like the very first thing I shipped,” he said. “It was such an important part of our brand.”
Leight, like many others in the retail sphere, is still shocked that Barneys is set to close its doors for good. The entrepreneur called Barneys one of his first introductions into the luxury retail market, a sentiment that’s true for many others in the industry.
- courtesy of Garret Leight
“Surreal … but not surprising”
“It’s a bit surreal,” Leight said when we asked about his reaction to the sale and shutdown news. “But I mean, it’s not surprising, you know – I think they just didn’t do the right things to stick around.”
The famed department store, which was once a symbol of splendor and wealth, filed for bankruptcy on October 16. It is set to be sold to the investment firm B. Riley Financial and Authentic Brands Group – owner of brands like Nine West and Volcom – who have filed to purchase both Barneys’ name and assets.
In the end, Barneys is selling for only $271 million, with all its remaining stores set to close.
“This development is a positive step forward for Barneys and a strong recognition of the value of Barneys’ assets and brand name,” a Barneys spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. “We are working hard to achieve a successful sale process that will preserve the integrity of this incredible brand and ultimately benefit our employees, customers, vendors, and other business partners.”
As Leight remembers his time spent working with Barneys, he said part of the store’s downfall was that they failed to establish themselves as a brand to the younger generations – himself included.
“I’m not really sure who the voice was or what the voice was [of Barneys]. I don’t really know what they stand for. Even in leaving, they just made an Instagram post, and it just had a hashtag on it,” Leight said. “Today, millennials and Gen-Z – we want to connect with something. We want to know who we’re supporting, and I just don’t know what [Barneys’] identity was.”
Modern consumers wants brands to have a “face”
On the same note, Leight knows that it is difficult for these large retailers to find ways to connect with younger audiences, especially in the digital era. He said that consumers today are looking for the “face” or “message” of what these big name brands stand for, so that the young consumers know and understand exactly what they are supporting.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “[But] you’ve gotta dedicate some effort – both financially and creatively – to creating something that buyers [and] consumers can connect with.”
If anything, Leight noted, Barneys’ bleak outcome should be a lesson for other department stores on how to survive in a new era, with a new generation of consumers.
“Their competitors need to make sure that they’re doing the right thing,” Leight said. “Or they’re next.”