As the award suggests, Gai Gherardi is a shining star, not only in her l.a.Eyeworks store, but also in her southern California community and the broader optical and fashion industries. Her passion for the eyewear business has been going strong for more than 40 years.
Founded with Barbara McReynolds in Los Angeles in 1979, l.a.Eyeworks took shape after a summer job sparked a vision for the future.
"From the first time each of us put glasses on a person, we both understood how intimate and profound the interaction could be. The level of trust required to look someone in the eyes, to touch behind their ears, to discuss their appearance - glasses were not only a conduit for communication but also an opportunity to encourage people on their personal journey of discovery and self-expression," Gherardi shared.
And her success in business came about a bit by accident: "Although l.a.Eyeworks is rightfully known as an optical brand, we honestly never set out with the intentions of building one. Barbara and I imagined l.a.Eyeworks as a kind of conceptual platform on which we could do many things and say what we wanted to say."
Since that time, Gherardi has had the chance to make her voice heard. Throughout the years, she's been featured in trade publications, recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and quoted as an expert in fashionable eyewear; the list of mentions is exhaustive. Yet her focus remains not on her own work, but the work of others.
"I love the camaraderie of the optical industry and its commitment to mentorship. Generous people educated me about the craft and practice of opticianry, and in turn, we've always considered l.a.Eyeworks a vehicle for sharing and discovery. From designers to sales representatives to store owners to opticians, l.a.Eyeworks is fortunate to have been embraced by so many wildly unique and talented individuals who we consider family. When it all falls into place, the exchange of ideas, information, and criticism on every level can be dynamic and inspiring."
When asked what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders, Gherardi said, "Bigger isn't necessarily better. The success that comes your way should be freeing. It should liberate you, not restrain or confine your path. Be curious. Keep fishing!"
"With deep gratitude to the Optical Women's Association, I feel it is important to honor a woman-directed enterprise that serves women, and so I am humbled to direct my Charity of Choice funds to A New Way of Life Reentry Project, founded by Susan Burton in 1998."
Gherardi continued to share her enthusiasm for her chosen charity: "A New Way of Life helps women and girls to break the cycle of entrapment in the criminal justice system with safe housing, case management, pro bono legal services, advocacy, and leadership development. Focusing her mission on successful community reentry, family reunification and individual healing, Susan Burton's vision is a powerful example that I hope inspires each of us."
Gherardi's and McReynolds' success have allowed them to open two locations and expand their reach to independents through wholesale distribution. Yet all the numbers boil down to one thing — the individuality of a single frame proudly displayed on someone's face.
"We are makers, we are eyewear designers, and there is nothing more wonderful than seeing something you created on another person. No matter where we've been in the world, to see someone wearing an l.a.Eyeworks design, and knowing they are living the full spectrum of their lives framed by something you designed, is humbling and deeply meaningful."
Gherardi shared the vision she set out to achieve many decades ago. "The dream was to expand the conversation about eyewear, and to whatever degree that vision has been accomplished, we are grateful for the opportunity . . . because there's much, much more to be said!"
Gherardi's contributions to women in the optical industry will continue beyond her 2021 Pleiades award, as her dream has become an inspiration to many.
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