Interviews

Off Duty: Kyly Zak Rabin of Zak. Eyewear

Written By Tiana Gidley

Photography by: Zachary Gray

I’ve worn glasses since the third grade and naturally progressed into contacts throughout the years to follow. Lucky for me, I know a thing or two about my eyes. After college, I even did a short stint at a popular tech start-up whose focus was (and still is) direct-to-consumer eyewear. It was always the same though, no matter what lens I looked through: mostly difficult to understand, expensive for my -4.25, astigmatism-ridden eyeballs (what’s that mean again?), and honestly, the choices and overall experiences were pretty lackluster. Eyewear just wasn’t that cool, but 30-something Kyly Zak Rabin is looking to change that.

As the co-founder of Zak., Kyly and her business partner, a self-made ophthalmologist of 25 years — who happens to be her father — strive to take a 21st century approach to all things eyes: glasses, contact lenses, and eye care as a whole with a goal to make vision approachable and attainable for all. It’s a modern, fresh approach backed by tons of ever-evolving industry research. We decided to catch Kyly on a rare day when she’s not eyes deep in computer work or marching the floor of Zak.’s flagship store. Today, the comedy-loving, 30-something (who will never turn down a good bowl of matzo ball soup) opens up her enviable Los Angeles home complete with epic city views to discuss all things sentimental, inherited art, what she’s currently binge watching on Netflix, plus the best spots in her ‘hood for a healthy, whole foods-filled bite. Pull up a chair, kick up your feet, grab your cup, and enjoy!

Vintage top. Mixed Business pants. Round, Thin, Clear Zak. frames.
Vintage top. Mixed Business pants. Round, Thin, Clear Zak. frames.

How do you typically spend a day off when the work can wait?  “Off days are rare, as I recently opened a business with a brick-and-mortar in Los Angeles. We’re open seven days a week, and I’m eager to spend time with customers! I try to give myself at least one day off per week. Spending time at home and around my neighborhood with friends, my husband, and a delicious meal are at the top of my list. I try to take a long walk, pick up a bottle of new wine to try, and squeeze in a Thai massage (this one should be more frequent).”

Do you sleep in on your days off?  “I operate at my best with eight hours of sleep. I’m focused, rejuvenated, and that all too familiar brain haze is non-existent. Eight hours is really a luxury these days. I try to sleep in on off days, but my body habitually wakes up around six or 7 a.m. I try my best to lounge around and read, put myself back to sleep, but I actually love an early morning on an off day. I can seize the day and spend the proper time to make tea and ease into a balance of errands, leisure and quality time, and me time without feeling rushed. Off days go by too quickly and it’s a constant effort to try not to think about work.”

How many times (if any) do you hit snooze?  “During the week, I don’t! Off days, if I’m feeling tired, I really lean into that snooze button, or even just completely turn off my alarm as much as I’m able to.”

What’s the very first thing you do when you wake up?  “My goal is to go for a walk, make tea, and get some personal writing in, but my reality is to check email.”

What’s on your bedside table?  “Clock because I’m desperately trying to keep my phone away from the bed, a pair of Zak. glasses because without them the world is a blur for me, Aquaphor, flowers (weekly cast-offs from the store that are still thriving), and a book (currently: Educated).”

What’s the story behind your home and how long have you lived there?  “After seven years of long-distance dating, I moved back to L.A. from D.C. / Chicago to be with my (now) husband. It was our first time living in the same place as a couple and it was important to us to find the right space to kick-start this next chapter. We searched for a few months on the east side and found a special spot in Silver Lake. It’s quiet and very private on a cul-de-sac, while also walking distance from some neighborhood standbys, which is really rare in L.A. There’s just something warm and welcoming about the space — it’s small, but open with lots of indoor-outdoor areas. I feel most relaxed at home, and I’m really grateful for that.”

What are a few items you cherish in your home and why?  “All of our art is tied to a memory, which I really love. A piece that hung in my living room growing up now hangs in my current living room, my mom’s photographs from Spain that she gifted me in college are above our dining table, a huge anatomy chart of leaves that I found at a flea market when I first moved back to L.A. is in our bedroom. We’re also extremely lucky to have a pool! Something about a pool is inherently relaxing, and then of course, all the more reason to have friends over. Our house is definitely a gathering place, especially over the summer for dips and s’mores in the fire. Architecturally, the pool is basically a trough supported by two metal beams on the side of a hill. It’s wild, and the only logical explanation is that it was dropped in its place by some huge crane. Our house also came with orange and fig trees. They don’t require a great amount of care and have provided more and more fruit each year. It’s nice to think about the families before us picking fruit off of these trees.”

Tell us about the art in your home.  “My mom has a great eye and is an avid traveler. She’s gifted me a ton of art and photography from her adventures and loaned us some pieces from my childhood home. The art in our house all have some kind of story. I mix Andre Miripolsky and Brian Andreas pieces with flea market finds, friends’ photography projects from high school, and prints collected from traveling.”‘

Where do you find / shop for home decor?  “The Rose Bowl flea market, Lawson Fenning, and Nicky Kehoe are favorites. A mix of high, low, new, old, comfy, and tailored and mostly all neutrals pretty much sums up my taste.”

Samantha Pleet Jumpsuit.
Samantha Pleet Jumpsuit.

What are your hobbies?  “This is a tough question. Since opening a business, my hobbies have regrettably taken a backseat. In theory, I believe a healthy work-play balance is essential, but I definitely need to make room for more brain breaks. Reading a great book or play, farmers market trips, tennis, and tea ceremony class are all hobbies that I should prioritize! This is a good reminder.”

Night in or night out? How do you spend it?  “Night in — friends, cooking together, great food, and great wine. Relaxed and casual and never-ending.”

Favorite, must-read books? The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Homegoing, The Artist’s Way, Bad Blood, and The Giving Tree.”

Favorite Netflix series / movie?  “Narcos. An extremely well-told thriller with an homage to true crime? I’m in and will watch every season. Great actors and wonderful storytelling. Ali Wong’s comedy specials, I loved them both. She’s got some real sass and addresses tough female themes with hilarious authenticity, not to mention she wears great glasses in awesome bold choices! Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I love this show. Jerry is such a legend and yet so low-key. I love how you can feel that most guests are just in awe of him, yet the whole thing feels at ease because they are just driving around and drinking joe. A recent episode was filmed at Canter’s, an iconic deli that’s been in L.A. for almost 100 years. Zak. is across the street, and I grew up eating matzo ball soup there, so it felt really nostalgic!”

Any good podcasts you recommend?  “I listen to The Daily religiously. I love interviews on Fresh Air. I was (and still am) addicted to How I Built This, a great podcast for anyone starting or thinking about starting a new business. I’m a sucker for anything true crime. I just finished To Live and Die in L.A. which chronicles the true story of a disappearance in real time. I highly recommend it if you’re into that kind of thing.”

Coffee table books and magazines you love?  “I subscribe to The New Yorker. I carry the current print edition in my work bag. I like reading from a physical copy. My favorite coffee table books are gifts from my mom from when she was in design school in her 20s — lots of modern minimalism. ”

Favorite candles?  “My best friend’s clothing company, 13 Bonaparte, makes a signature candle that is my absolute favorite.”

Song currently on repeat?  “I’m guilty of ‘killing’ songs — playing them over and over to the point of literal no return. My husband is a songwriter, so I typically force him to send me his demos to play on repeat.”

Signature scent?  “Gaiac by Le Labo. I bought this on my first trip to Japan. My husband and I now both wear it, which is kind of weird, but we love it. So, I guess the more the merrier! I also wear 1509, a scent our friend makes. The bottles contain a floating dried flower or leaf, which is so simple and beautiful.”

13 Bonaparte skirt. Labeless black tank. Acne sandals. Really Round, Thin, Black Zak. frames.
13 Bonaparte skirt. Labeless black tank. Acne sandals. Really Round, Thin, Black Zak. frames.

Describe your personal style / style philosophy.  “Minimal, timeless, modern, and comfortable. I’m a big believer in combining style and function, especially since I spend most of my time at Zak. I love being able to look professional but casual, feel like myself, and wear things day to night.”

What’s the one thing in your closet you would save in a fire?  “Most of my favorite pieces are vintage gems from my mom. She gave me a handful of incredible oversized blazers from the ’90s — Armani, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan. I would save each and every one of those.”

Your first fashion splurge? Details please.  “Growing up, I wasn’t deeply into fashion, but I knew what I liked. For my prom, I was adamant about getting something a bit unexpected and out of the ordinary instead of your typical prom dress. There’s a great vintage shop called Resurrection that is a mecca of the most iconic designers. I found the perfect Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo dress that I still wear!”

Your biggest fashion failure?  “Fourteen years old, following trends like low rise jeans (eek!) instead of my own sense of style.”

What do you wear when you’re spending the day comfortable, at home, and off duty?  “Robes, pajamas, any type of comfy loungewear. The Sloan pajama set is my go-to and is versatile enough to wear out of the house, too!”

Who, what, where inspires your style the most?  “My dad (and business partner). He is so fearlessly himself. He wears his signature vest, pocket hanky, and sport jacket daily. When I was younger, it was all zoot suits. Our tastes are really different, but the honesty and confidence in his strong sense of personal style is just the best and so refreshing.”

What are three things on your want list?  “Acne leather tote, a Ligne Roset sofa, and a plant from Sanso.”

Your five wardrobe staples, go…. “13 Bonaparte denim pants. Agnes B button-up or a Lily Ashwell tee, vintage oversized jacket, a great pair of slides or my black Nikes, and a Zak. frame (currently The Really Round). I’m on my feet all day at the store, so comfort is number one!”

Favorite designers / brands?  “13 Bonaparte because they have the most unique designs of everyday pieces. And, Wrk-shp because they offer pieces inspired by architecture and made with fabrics from Japanese mills. It is also designed by the architects of the Zak. store!”

Very favorite online shop?  “The Good Liver. I love their edit of Japanese home goods. And of course, zakeyes.com!”

If you could raid one person’s closet (dead or alive), whose would it be and why?  “Joan Didion. She always looks so chic and effortless!”

Dresses or jeans?  “Jeans!”

Heels or flats?  “Flats, but I do love a very high heel for a special occasion.”

Vintage or new?  “A combo — 70% new, 30% vintage.”

Breakfast / brunch of choice?  “Some combination of eggs, avocado, greens, and smoked salmon. I need protein in the morning.”

Coffee or tea? How do you take it?  “Tea, always. I start my morning with tea and make cups throughout the day. It’s meditative and energizing, and the ritual of making tea is cherished time. I mix it up — earl gray with almond or oat milk, Hojicha (roasted green tea), Taiwanese oolong, and I always love PG Tips.”

Favorite local cup?  “Black tea with steamed oat milk from Paramount Coffee Project (PCP), a coffee shop on Fairfax just a few doors down from Zak.”

Fave cookbooks?  “Small Victories by Julia Turshen. It offers elevated, but simple recipes for the kind of food I want to eat everyday. I’m still dipping my toe into cooking regularly and this cookbook isn’t intimidating!”

Your go-to dinner recipe when at home?  “My best friend is an amazing cook, the kind of person who can throw together a meal with whatever is in the fridge. I don’t have this skill. I lived off of her ‘weeknight bowls’ when we were roommates in Washington, D.C. It could include anything really, but my fave ingredients are brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, corn, avocado, and sautéed greens.”

Favorite local restaurant and your go-to order?  “If I’m at the store, matzo ball soup from Canter’s. At home, it’s All Time in Los Feliz. The ‘Good Ass’ salad, whole branzino with crispy rice, and chocolate chip cookies are my go-tos!”

Regular Postmates / takeout order?  “Mixto Burrito Bow — kale, turmeric rice, black beans, avo, grilled chicken, lemon dressing. It’s healthy, offers free delivery, and has a quick turnaround time. I guess I’m either making or ordering a version of this bowl. It’s nourishing and unfussy!”

Any supplements you take / magic elixirs you make or swear by?  “I swear by Lypo-Spherpic Vitamin C, which is extra potent and extra gross-tasting Vitamin C gels to avoid getting sick. I take one a day regularly and up to three day if I’m feeling sick. I rely on V Clear and colloidal silver spray if I’m starting to feel under the weather. Gargling with warm water and salt really works too! Then, lots of hot water with lemon.”

Any most-loved kitchen gadgets?  “Boos block! We have a huge Boos block in our kitchen. Functionally, it’s a multi-purpose cutting board and aesthetically it’s a great chunky piece that breaks up our marble.”

How do you stay active? Do you work out?  “I feel my best, both mentally and physically, when I exercise. I rotate Bar Method classes, long walks around the Silver Lake Reservoir, hikes in Griffith Park, and some solid time on the treadmill at home.”

What does self-care look like for you when you’re off duty?  “Acupuncture, a long bath, a day with no plans, and lots of reading!”

You decide to treat yourself, how do you indulge?  “Massage at Tomoko Spa and a martini (or two…).”

Zak. frames.
Zak. frames.

Tell us a bit about what you do.  “My dad and I recently launched Zak., the 21st century approach to your eyes. We are streamlining and modernizing the typically clunky process to provide a seamless one-stop shop for all our eye care and eyewear needs. Our ethos, design, culture, products, and services are created to make taking care of your eyes easier for those with prescription needs, while encouraging everyone to consider their eyes.”

Was it always eyewear?  “No! My dad, an optometrist, has been in practice for over 35 years, and while essentially I have been around eye care and eyewear my entire life, like most kids, I was eager to carve my own path. My background is in production and operations for non-profit and start-up organizations.”

In what ways is Zak changing the landscape of eyewear, for both consumers that wear glasses and those with twenty-twenty vision?  “We all have eyes! Yet, they typically do not get much attention. And, those obligated to acknowledge them because of prescription needs are met with an antiquated optometric model that doesn’t effectively marry medical, retail, and the modern consumer. A commitment to your wellbeing should include your eyes. We’ve reexamined eye care to inspire awareness and offer the products and services to do it better. Our concept, aesthetic, and brand values create a physical and digital destination that makes people want to take care of their eyes, while providing an uncomplicated shopping experience. Zak. frames make it simple (six shapes, two weights, three colors), while our services elevate the entire experience, making the process more seamless, palatable, and encouraging for everyone.”

Who / what has been your biggest inspiration?  “My dad is the ultimate inspiration. He is completely self-made and built a successful business / practice that is still thriving after 35 years. His insight and medical expertise are essential to all things Zak.”

What does a typical work day look like?  “I’m at the store at least six days a week. I love to be in the space and work with customers. It’s the best way to innovate, ideate, and grow our business. When I’m not with customers or monitoring operations or managing online orders, I’m emailing as much as I can in between and will take meetings on the block. I always try to suggest Jon & Vinny’s (our next door neighbor) for a breakfast meeting spot!”

What’s it like working with your dad?  “My dad is an expert in the field. He has been in practice for over 35 years with three locations. Although he doesn’t see patients at Zak., he is the optical brains behind the operation. His insight, experience, and medical know-how are crucial as we aim to provide the highest degree of comprehensive care and educate consumers about the importance of eye health. His longstanding career has provided us with rich data that serves as the blueprint for the products we develop — like our in-house collection of frames to the lenses we stock in our on-site lab — to ensure same-day fabrication all the way to patient care, insurance practices, medical equipment and technology, contact lenses, and so much more. Working together has its challenges. We are both very specific (must be genetic) and sometimes there are generational hang-ups, but for the most part, we’re learning a ton from each other and as family, we always find middle ground. We’ve built something together in a very short time, and I’ve seen my dad in a new light. The quality and capacity of his practice as a self-made progressive eye doctor is unparalleled.”

Typical work lunch?  “I grab something on the block, usually a turkey burger from Golden State or a grain bowl from Paramount Coffee Project.”

In such a competitive industry, how do you keep up with the Jonses?  “Quality of service, experience, and product are paramount. We don’t skimp on the small or large things. Every moment of the journey is carefully and thoughtfully considered.”

Keys to productivity? (Anything goes!)  “I’m a list person. I keep track of all my to-dos in one place and feel satisfied when I can physically cross off an item! It’s key to hire a great team and delegate, both easier said than done.”

Can you tell us how you remedy being in a creative funk? What puts you back on track?  “Brain breaks. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to step away from work even when I’m in a funk. But, taking a personal day or allowing myself to sleep in and dedicate two hours in the morning to myself can really put me back on track quickly.”

If you could tell your 20-year-old self anything, what would it be?  “Try everything!”

Any advice to other women looking to start a career in eyewear?  “I would suggest immersing yourself in the eyewear space and learning as much as possible. It’s growing and expanding, but there are things that are incredibly industry-specific, so some experience would be very helpful.”

Any exciting news or projects on the horizon?  “We’re using our first location and its varying service and product offerings as a means to collect data that will illuminate our path forward. We’d love to have select Zak. locations around the country and connect with, educate, and provide products and services digitally to encourage people to consider their eyes and offer the best way to do so.”

Written by: Tiana Gidley

Tiana Gidley is the 20-something Senior Managing Editor at The Bleu. She binge-watches reality TV on Bravo, throws a mean murder mystery party, and makes her bed every morning.

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