Roslyn designer takes off with Grenn Pilot

Grenn Pilot's Karen Levitt has worked in fashion for over 35 years. (Photo courtesy of Karen Levitt)

Each morning at her Roslyn Heights home, Karen Levitt wakes up at 5 a.m. for her routine.

“I do my exercise, then I’m home and working on my laptop by 6,” Levitt says.

While Levitt, a designer and founder of the fashion company Grenn Pilot, used to commute to New Jersey in the early hours, she now sits in her home office to contact her manufacturers in Istanbul, Turkey and Somerset, United Kingdom.

Levitt began in fashion in the mid-1980s, working for department store Century 21 before an 18-year stint with off-price clothing franchise Daffy’s, where she experimented with design. Once Daffy’s closed, she turned to online discount retailer Ideeli.

“My hand has always been in the off-price world,” Levitt says.

While working at Ideeli, Levitt developed newer skills, with the help of her millennial colleagues.

“While I had a lot of experience in certain areas, the people I was surrounded by had different experiences,” Levitt said. “They were more computer savvy and opened up my eyes to different things. I learned how the internet was really changing retail.”

Once Ideeli became defunct, Levitt was left at a crossroads.

“I was 56 and trying to figure out my next steps and where I wanted to go,” Levitt said. “I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and my husband was the one who said, why don’t you do something on your own?”

Levitt then took stock of her experiences and decided to use her career of more than 30 years to launch her own label, which she named Grenn Pilot.

Her first line debuted soon after, with its first season introducing seven styles of outerwear. Levitt designed the garments and had them manufactured using her industry contacts.

One element that sets Grenn Pilot apart from its competitors is a dedication to sustainable materials in its products.

“The fashion industry is paying more attention to sustainability,” Levitt said. “Shearling is cowhide and sheepskin, and they’re byproducts from the food industry.”

Levitt adds that her transition from buyer to vendor may not have been easy, but she was “all in.”

“In 2016, I had maybe 10 stores, and I started out very small, but stores loved the product, the material, loved that they could call me and request certain items for their customers,” Levitt said.

Now in its third season, Grenn Pilot has grown to almost 50 retailers, Levitt says, with many across the country, one in Europe, and an arrangement with Saks Fifth Avenue Mexico.

In addition, Levitt uses skills learned at Ideeli to appeal to consumers online, collaborating with Instagram influencers to model products and tag Grenn Pilot for their followers to see.

“The idea of having all these people looking at my product is so important for me as a new brand,” Levitt says. “I’ve partnered with some really terrific influencers, and I’ve gotten a lot of business from retailers based on bloggers and influencers.”

Last year, Grenn Pilot launched another line meant for furniture and decor called Home, which Levitt says the company will expand upon in the future.

“Home is a 12-month business; fashion is seasonal,” Levitt said.

Levitt, a Woodbury native who moved from Manhattan to Roslyn Heights with her husband and sons in 2001, plans to expand into garments and products for men, children and beyond and says that Grenn Pilot’s name was chosen to apply to all the possibilities for the brand.

“At 56, I was piloting my own journey, and when I’m piloting my own journey, the sky is infinite,” Levitt said.


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