$130 T-Shirt

I am not typically brand loyal and I hardly ever pay attention to designer labels. I watch fashion shows as the colors and silhouettes are usually good indicators of what will be trending in the optical industry, but I never watch for a specific designer. This search for aesthetics over designer labels is a practice I use in my own personal clothing shopping, and led me to an unintentional purchase that has influenced my designs.

I am addicted to a plain T-shirt that costs $130.

I don’t have the most exciting closet. It consists mostly of shades of white, gray, blue, and especially black. Since my daughters are old enough to start eyeing my closet, they often ask why I own clothes that are so plain and black. “Black clothing makes my life easier,” I

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“Black clothing makes my life easier,” says designer Alexandra Peng.

reply. When I’m on the go, I don’t have time to be thinking about which colors will match, so I simply go with one that can withstand the test of time and occasions.

I don’t have a favorite designer. When I shop, I look at the quality of the material, the cut, and whether the style is one that suits my own. I hardly have any time to shop, so when I do, I go straight for a few stores that are known for quality, and search for pieces that are similar to the tried and true styles that I previously owned. I never have been one to go for any particular label or designer. Until I found these T-shirts.

I discovered these incredible T-shirts by pure coincidence, as I never intentionally seek them out. One day I was in a rush to find some plain T-shirts, and Neiman Marcus was the closest store near me. I ran in, asked the sales lady where I could find some plain shirts, and she pointed to a rack in the corner. I quickly grabbed three: a black, gray, and navy blue, and darted to the cashier. When she told me the amount I had to pay, I was shocked. I instantly regretted not looking at the price tags, but I didn’t have time to shop elsewhere, so I dutifully but painfully paid.

What made those T-shirts different from inexpensive alternatives was not immediately apparent to me. Yes, the cut was great; they felt as if they were tailored specifically for me, but I am no stranger to clothing with a proper fit, so I still thought I made a mistake for not being a more careful shopper. But years went by and I finally took notice. I became aware of the fact that those three T-shirts are the ones I always reach for. I also noticed that after years of countless washing, they have not faded and have not lost their shape. They feel as comfortable as when I first bought them. I also finally understand what “feels like your second skin” means. Not because they are skin-tight, but it means they are so utterly comfortable that I always feel at ease while I’m wearing them.

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Alexandra (left) wears one of her NM Luxury Essentials black tees.

I will probably wear tees by Neiman Marcus’ Luxury Essentials until the day I die or they stop the collection, whichever comes first. I came to accept the fact that paying such an exuberant amount for a plain T-shirt is my guilty pleasure. I wear them all the time, and they work well with either dress up or down: with jeans, with long skirts, layered under a blazer, and especially when I fly as they are thick enough to keep me warm while on the plane.

Four years after I bought those tees, I went back to NM and got a couple more black ones. I brought them home, put them side by side with the old one, and found no difference whatsoever between them. They are exactly the same shade of black and look and feel identical.

This is an era when fast and cheap fashion such as H&M and Zara are all the rage. But I refuse to shop from them because their clothing cannot withstand the test of time so one ends up creating more wastes in the landfills. I will always prefer paying more for quality and styles that actually last as I believe it’s actually better value in the long run and better for our environment.

No fashion runway shows have inspired me as much as these plain black T-shirts. It shall always be my goal to create versatile, understated, and timeless elegant eyewear with quality that lasts.


What’s Behind a Designer Brand?

I often question what it really means to be a designer.

Take the fashion industry for example: for the last few decades, most of the runway-worthy designers package their latest whims and ideas with dramatic theatrical elements tailored for the media hoping to make headlines and glossy magazine covers. But the more regarded the fashion designer, the less likely we will ever see their clothes sold at retailers, as they are deemed “unsellable.” So, in order to recover the exuberant price tag of runway shows, the fashion houses will request the designers to create a simplified “ready to wear” collection.  The glorified fashion kings and queens will eventually cater to department stores and the down-to-earth needs of regular consumers to recoup costs in order to remain profitable.

Then what is fashion but a form of self-indulgence of the fashion houses and of the designers? It is all done in the name of creating an image and to satisfy the press with article-worthy materials. The consumers merely get a watered-down version of the designer’s aesthetics. They are buying the label of the designer whose name was in the news, but the clothes they get from Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue have barely any resemblance of designers’ original creativity.

Yet the shows go on season after season. Millions and millions of revenue is spent and lost. The fashion the world once knew is being reduced to serve only a select few. Couture is alive only on runways and red carpets.

Gone are the days that men need to be all suited-up in order to look professional and credible. Most women ditched their pencil skirts and stockings for good. People want clothes that can take them from day to night, and consequently, most people hardly ever pay attention to current fashion. People just want to wear what suits their personality, budget, and lifestyle. The smarter and savvier the consumer, the less likely he or she will care to chase what’s trending in fashion.

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Alexander McQueen designs from the Fall/Winter 2009 collection.

I am such consumer. I will pay for quality, but never for a label. I am a working mom who needs to go from the office to the grocery store, and then home to whip up dinner in 30 minutes flat. My weekends are filled with cooking, catching up on movies, and lounging in my backyard while I read and listen to my kids’ laughter. I hardly have an occasion that requires fancy clothes. Even when I attend business expos, my outfit has to be able to take me from a 10 hour work day to a business dinner, and withstand the occasional coffee spill.

Before I launched TC CHARTON, I used to work with 20-30 collections of “designer eyewear” each year. For each collection, I always tried to stay focus on each brand’s theme or the colors of the season. But that’s where the consistency of the brand ends. Most license brands would request that the styles sacrifice functionality or cut costs on the materials in favor of the placement of a big logo—which means all temples have to have a certain height or thickness to accommodate such logo. Worst of all, they want to “recycle” eye shapes. Once certain eye shapes are proven good sellers, they wanted me to reuse the same shape over and over again. The end result? All collections look strikingly similar and the uniqueness of each label is lost.

So, when I design my own collection, one thing I try to always keep in mind is “What do real people want.” (Let’s keep this sentence in order to provide some kind of transition). Once I forgo the types of styles that are meant to “wow” but have little practicality, I focus solely on the consumers’ needs and draw my inspiration from real faces.  There’s no ego behind my label, and therefore no styles are ever meant to create headlines. They are, nevertheless, carefully crafted with simple and minute details to maximize comfort and durability while looking great on an Asian face.

My customers may never know who’s behind the frames they are wearing, because being famous as a designer was never part of my agenda. What’s important is for them to get to wear products that were sincerely created for them; one face and one style at a time.

 

 

 


Follow That Brow

“I have a round face, so I need some rectangular frames,” is one of the most common phrases that we hear from consumers who write to us asking for help.

Usually they give us a list of styles they like which tend to be more conservative and rectangular shaped. Most Asians think they have a round face, and therefore they often lean towards rectangular shaped frames or sunglasses so they can “off set” the roundness.

Evidently, that is not true. Asians have all kinds of facial shapes just like the rest of the world’s population. My colleague Bradie often says, “If I could make a dollar for every time an Asian thinks he/she has a round face, I’d be rich by now.”

We often suggest inquiring consumers to send in front and profile pictures, along with their height. With these, I can get a sense of their proportions and suggest a few styles of frames that would fit them the best by conducting a virtual fitting.

I love having the opportunity to do a virtual fitting. It gives me a chance to learn what are the most common challenges faced by the consumers, and it is a way for me to connect with them. I greatly appreciate the trust they place on us.

But if I could only give one piece of advice for choosing the right frame shape, it would be “follow your brow line.”

Finding the right frame starts with understanding your brow line. Frame shown is Nathan in C2.

Many Asians do not have protruding brow bones and deep-set eyes sockets, so it appears they have a greater distance between their eyebrows and their eyes. If an Asian with these features wears a frame that is very flat on the top rim, it creates a straight line between the eyebrows and the eyes. This inevitably would visually “close” the eyes and make them look smaller. However, when the shape follows the brow line and it finishes just below the eyebrows, it is much more flattering. It gives a more youthful look, visually “opening” the eyes.

Furthermore, having the upper rim of the frame sit right across your upper lid and actually impede your vision, causing you to be unable to look through the center of your lenses.

Finding the perfect pair of glasses involves quite a bit of technical knowledge, as there are many factors involved besides examining brow lines. With over one hundred styles, all with different designs and nuances, we create our frames with variations meant to fit specific facial features. When one is browsing through our online catalog, it can be a challenge to determine which one will be the best fit, especially without an experienced optician to guide you through the process.

That said; even if you have an optometrist near you that carries our collection do not hesitate to ask us for help. Simply send to info@tc-charton.com your height along with pictures of the front of your face and side profile (without glasses) so that I can assess the most adequate temple length and examine your nose bridge. From here, I can suggest specific styles tailored to your features.

Your optician will be able to check and see if they have the suggested frames in stock. If by chance they don’t, you can request that they be ordered as “patient approval.” To find a location near you that carries our line, visit our store finder located at the top of our website at www.TC-Charton.com.

Remember: always, look at your eyebrows. Study your face closely in the mirror. How are your eyebrows? Are they straight? Arched?  If so, pick a style that has higher arches on the upper part of the shape. You will notice the difference. After all, we want the frame to sit on your face as if it was designed just for you.


We Pledge Allegiance to George Takei

Looking back at 2015, there were a lot of breakthroughs for Asian-Americans in the media.

Original series like Fresh off the Boat and Dr. Ken feature Asian Americans in leading roles, and Lisa Ling’s This is Life forces our society to rethink many issues facing the world today.

Among these noteworthy Asian Americans, the one that has had the most impact on us is George Takei.

With 411 thousand Instagram followers, 1.78 million Twitter followers and 9.3 million likes on Facebook at the writing of this blog, George Takei has impressed a lot of people.

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George Takei as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu

Initially known for his role as Lieutenant Sulu on Star Trek, Takei has blown up in popularity over the past few years. His quips and witty observations never fail to entertain, and he uses his charisma to his advantage as an influential political activist.

After coming out as a homosexual in 2005, Takei has been involved with several LGBT groups across the nation. Notably, he was featured in the online docuseries It Got Better, which features famous members of the LGBT community sharing their struggles and success. While he admitted to feeling some trepidation when he first revealed his sexual orientation to the world, he has since never been afraid to fight for what he feels is right.

So, with his track record for affecting social change, it’s no wonder that he is the perfect figurehead for the Broadway Musical: Allegiance.

The story of Allegiance takes place during the internment of Japanese-American citizens in WWII. The plot revolves around young Sam Kimura (played by Telly Leung) and the struggles his family must face during one of the most tumultuous times in US history. Takei plays two characters; an older version of Sam, and Sam’s wise grandfather Ojii-san.

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George Takei as Older Sam Kimura

What makes Allegiance so relevant is the fact that it broaches a topic that is rarely discussed on stage. The forced relocation of Japanese-Americans is something that many of us would like to forget, but works of art like this exist to remind us of our mistakes.

Identity is a major theme throughout the play. While Sam identifies more with being an American, his sister sees herself as more Japanese. This causes a rift between the two siblings that leads to several years of bad blood.

The lesson Allegiance teaches us, is that the more we focus on our differences, the more it drives us apart. The best thing you can do is to be true to yourself and to accept others for who they are.

George Takei has taken this lesson to heart, and it is why he has become one of the greatest icons for equality in our time.

He has used his social media savvy, his celebrity status and his sense of humor to fight against the forces of oppression. George has always taught his fans that no matter what path you take in life, the most wonderful thing you can be is yourself.

And we feel the same way.

It is incredibly important to feel comfortable in your own skin, and that is why we created TC CHARTON and TC FIT to begin with. When you wear frames that fit you correctly, it reaffirms that you are perfectly fine the way you are. While we may not fight the same battles as George Takei, we feel that we are working towards the same goal: to help people feel good about being themselves.

So, from the bottom of our hearts, we would like to thank George Takei for all he has done to make the world a better place. Going forward in 2016, we’ll try to do the same.

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Thank you for everything, George.


What Are You Really Paying For? The True Cost of a Licensed Brand

“Why do your products cost as much as brands like Versace?”  People have asked.

My short and sweet answer: “Because we have higher quality products.”

Upon seeing the puzzled look on their face, I’d explain further.

Most consumers don’t realize the difference between “licensed brands” and “independent brands”.

sunglasses_2In terms of eyewear, a pair of “licensed brand” frames will bear the logo of a big and recognizable brand, such as Versace, Gucci, Christian Dior, Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Ferragamo, Valentino…etc.

These fashion power houses give optical companies the rights to develop, manufacture, distribute and sell products bearing their logos. This kind of agreement, depending on how powerful/recognizable the brand is, could potentially cost the eyewear company millions of dollars on the rights alone. They receive permission to use the name for a number of years (typically, five) plus, an additional amount of time per each unit sold.

Meanwhile, the luxury house (such as LVMH) that owns these big fashion brands will sit back and collect the license fee and royalties without ever needing to know anything about the ins and outs of optical design or manufacturing.

Eyewear companies such as Luxottica (which owns Lenscrafters/Sunglass Hut/Sears Optical/Peale Vision and holds the licenses to Chanel, Tiffani, Bvlgari, Oakley, Coach, Prada, Armani, Prada, Ray Ban, etc.), and Safilo Group, (which holds the licenses to Fendi, Boss, Marc Jacobs, Dior and owns nine thousand retail stores worldwide) handle the process of creating and producing the branded eyewear lines.

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Taking the licensing fees and the cost of the royalties into consideration, the in-house eyewear designers have a very rigid budget when creating the style. Often times, this means the quality has to be sacrificed. In order to turn a profit, the styles must be easily mass produced. Their business strategy hinges on the idea that people will buy the products for the recognized logos regardless of quality.

However, an independent eyewear brand, such as TC CHARTON, has none of those embedded costs.

In my case, because there is no one above me to dictate the budgets and no board members to answer to, I have total freedom in the creative process. I get to pick the best quality components and materials and can just focus on creating the most beautiful products possible. Instead of spending the money on paying royalties and licensing fees, I get to spend it on quality and craftsmanship.

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Deluxe – How Luxury Lost its Luster, by Dana Thomas.

I am not alone. Behind every independent eyewear company, there is someone who is passionate about the art of designing and producing a distinctive collection that reflects their artistic sensibilities. Unfortunately, when dealing with licensed brands, they will have to compromise creativity for the sake of profit.

I am fortunate because I have no such constraints. This is all I know, and I cannot imagine doing it differently.

So before you shop for your next pair of frames, please remember: if the brand sounds familiar and bears a big logo that appears on clothing or other consumer goods, it is a licensed brand. A discerning consumer will always seek out lesser known and beautifully crafted pieces, as these are the styles that truly embody the artistry and vision of a true designer.

For more information, I suggest reading Deluxe – How Luxury Lost its Luster, by Dana Thomas. It is a wonderful book that goes into intricate detail surrounding the issues plaguing licensed brands.

 


Made in China

“Where are your products made?” People often ask.

“They are made in China.” I’d reply with confidence.

I get a lot of varied reactions to that.

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The worker hand-scrapes the acetate to make the temples thinner.

Some would shrug and say, “Everything is made in China nowadays,” and accept it without a second thought. Some freeze up, worrying about blurting out something politically incorrect.

Usually I let them pause for a few seconds, and then add, “They are made by one of the top-five optical companies in Hong Kong. They are a second-generation manufacturer that produces some of the top boutique collections in the world.”

That tends to get their attention.

With so much negative media coverage dealing with questionable products made from shady factories, I can understand their hesitation. The mistrust towards Chinese produced goods is deeply ingrained into the consumer’s mind. After all, most of these people will never step foot inside a factory to inspect the quality of the goods themselves, especially not the ones across the globe. If all you ever hear is the negative portrayals on the news, then of course you would be critical.

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The worker buffs the face plate, smoothing out the rough edges.

And because of the media bias, most people will never know that the ones really responsible for those shoddy goods are the buyers from American companies.

I’ve heard with my own ears, more times than I care for, stories of obnoxious buyers from big companies that bully their way into better deals with the factory. They will place orders for ginormous quantities, and insist that the factory slash their prices in half to accommodate them. Most factories have little choice in the matter, as if they refuse to do business, hundreds of thousands of workers may lose their jobs.

But something will have to give.

The factory is placed under strict time constraints, so they can’t take longer to finish the order. The price range is non-negotiable and at the end of the day they will still have to pay all of their employees. The quality of the materials is the only thing that can be sacrificed to appease the buyer’s outrageous specifications.

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The worker uses a calligraphy brush to clean around the hinges.

Lower quality products do not concern the buyers. The only thing they care about is maintaining their profit margins, and returning back to the boardroom with a beautiful spreadsheet detailing the amazing deal they just secured. So long as they can supply blockbuster stores in the first world countries with cheap goods to feed the insatiable appetites of the typical consumer, they will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Then my question is, who is to blame? The factories? The buyers?

Or is it the consumers that only want cheap products?

The same people who are wary of Chinese-made products often forget that the iPhone in their hands was also made in China. So are their solar panels, the $3000 flat screen TV, the satellites, and their beautiful buttery leather jackets.

The factory that produces our collection is the same I collaborated with for fifteen years while working with 30+ European collections a year. It is a second-generation frame maker, and the founding father, who is over 78 now, started making frames when he was 17 years old. As a young apprentice, he would fallow his shi-fu from Shanghai to Hong Kong, sitting behind a little window taking measurements and handcrafting each frame from real tortoise shells. He kept a small operation for over four decades, until his three grown sons returned from their education in America to take over the family business.

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The worker files and polishes the end piece.

All the European brands that I worked with, (the majority of them real boutique eyewear brands with great prestige worldwide) were produced in their plant in China. Once the goods were finished, they were shipped throughout Europe to the headquarters of these optical companies, and there they were printed as “made in” France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, etc.…

Once, I was approached by a representative from a European brand. He noted the quality of TC CHARTON, and said that other brands of similar quality would price their products $100 higher than ours. He didn’t know how we could afford to price them so low.

I just smiled and told him, “I don’t need to pay for all the shipping.”

By directly shipping from China to the USA, we don’t have to increase our prices to pay for detour shipping and custom duties. This allows us to pass the savings onto our consumers.

I used to be part of this unethical “country of origin” game. But now that I have full-control of my own collection, I refuse to deceive the consumers. I also want to give credit where credit is due. These exceptional artisans and craftsmen deserve recognition for their work. I want to tell everybody through my products that there are GREAT Chinese factories out there, and that they produce some of the most beautifully crafted products I’ve ever seen. Why should the Europeans get all the credit when these Chinese workers are the ones who did all the dirty work?

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The frames are washed, rinsed and set out to dry before being packaged.

That being said, it is undeniable that the European optical component companies still produce top quality parts and materials. We use German stainless steel, Italian Mazzucchelli acetates, French COMOTEC and Austrian REDTENBACHER spring hinges. But, besides the parts and materials, the thing that truly distinguishes a beautiful acetate frame from a mediocre one is the craftsmanship.

There are bad apples in every industry, in every country. But there are also some state-of-the-art facilities across China that are so well-managed, so skilled, and so technologically advanced that they have to be run by some of the very best experts, engineers, and artisans in the world. Just like the factory that produces every single piece of our collection.

Top notch components and skilled craftsmanship. I believe we have the best of both worlds. And yes, they are made in China.


What happened in Vegas WON’T stay in Vegas!

Back in June of 2009, when I first started TC CHARTON and founded Prologue Vision, I had a vision for the future.

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Alexandra and Amy Endo

I’d work really hard for three years, introduce the line to the industry and to my fellow Asian Americans and show them the amazing benefit of wearing eyewear that really fits. Eventually, people will start to demand better fitting products and other companies will start paying more attention to the needs of consumers with Asian features. Once the bigger companies start to have their own versions of Asian fit eyewear, it will be time for me to squeeze out of the game.

Back then, I truly believed TC CHARTON would not be able to withstand the fierce competition of the power houses that own all the big international licensed brands. Time and time again people insisted that Asian people ONLY want to wear Big Brands and Big Logos.

It was discouraging at times, but I remember telling them and myself:

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Dr. Jeanette Lee and Alexandra

“I am Asian, and I never care about the big logos. I cannot be the only one. There’s gotta be other like-minded Asians out there. I care about good fitting, great quality products above all things, whether they are shoes, or clothes or glasses.”

Just as I predicted, other eyewear companies, big or small, started to follow suit. Many of them have introduced styles with higher nose pads, and they all claimed to have Asian fit.

When I first heard about this, I panicked. But only briefly. I quickly learned that, NO other collection offers what we offer: a complete collection with over 150 styles—-for women, men, teens, kids, and babies. Time and time again I hear opticians and optometrists telling me that no other products fit their Asian patients as well as ours.

Show after show, meeting after meeting, we are greeted with encouragement and positive feedback.

And now, 10 shows and 6 years later, we are still around.

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Our model, Tim Chung, was very popular.

So, as we wrapped up the presentation of our new Fall/Winter 2015 collection at Vision Expo West, we were elated with the turnout. Our model, Tim, who flew in from Los Angeles, was a huge hit at both the booth and our cocktail party in our suite at the Venetian Hotel. We got to hang out with some of our existing accounts, and meet new ones that want our products in their stores.  And most importantly, people LOVED the new styles.

People often ask me: “Why do your products fit so much better? What’s your secret?”

There’s no secret. I am Asian, and I study Asian faces. This is all I do, and I intend to do it the best of my ability. This is not an afterthought. This collection represents everything I believe in – to be the change I want to see. I am always listening to what consumers and opticians have to say. That’s why I love meeting consumers at the trunk shows, and I love talking to the opticians and asking for their feedback.

I attend the Vision Expos each year, not merely to use it as a platform to showcase our newest styles, but to get the opportunity to make a personal connection with eye care professionals. I take their opinions to heart and then I turn around and work harder to meet their needs.

Until next show.

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From left to right: Dina Wong, Scott Martin, Alexandra, Crystal Naguit, and Bradie Gilson


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