“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”.
In 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Back in June of 2009, when I first started TC CHARTON and founded Prologue Vision, I had a vision for the future.
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:
“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.
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.
“You’re high-end! You don’t need this!”
That is usually what people say to me when I tell them about TC Fit, especially those who love our TC CHARTON collection. It’s true; I didn’t need to create another sub-collection. We are quickly earning the loyalty of our fans, and the practices that carry our products are doing well. Nobody complains about our prices because we have proven the value of our products.
Besides, I never had any experience creating products at “lower” price points. My past professional experiences and my upbringing has shaped me into a designer/consumer of quality goods with medium to medium-high price points. I will be the first to admit that I am one of those with “expensive tastes”.
However, moving my family and the company out of Silicon Valley has been a real eye-opener. We relocated to the North Texas’ DFW area, and I am delighted to find the diversity that I craved while living in the most expensive area in the country.
I actually have neighbors of ALL ethnicities, and gone are the days that everyone we interact with is in the tech industry with a household income in the top 1%. I actually get to know people from all walks of life. My children no longer bring home friends that roll their eyes because they HAVE TO go to Europe AGAIN for their summer vacation.
Once I got out of the unrealistic bubble of Silicon Valley, I came to realize that maybe not all people can afford our products, but still need them. People who work hard trying to raise a family, or have to work while paying for college tuition; people who are doing their part to contribute to the society but still live paycheck to paycheck; people who have decent jobs but still cannot afford to pay extra on top of their insurance coverage.
Hence TC Fit.
I like to think of TC Fit as a simplified collection. Gone are the intricate decals, metal inserted logos inside the temples, and richly patterned Italian acetates. I still want great eye shapes. I still want the hand-laminated nose pads and tips. It’s still being produced by the same manufacturer that produces TC CHARTON, which is renowned for their craftsmanship and beautiful finishing. I still want quality and I still want to offer a great fit to those who need it.
A customer just told me that TC Fit is a great addition to our existing CHARTON collection, as now he can offer great quality products to a wider range of people. “It’s not cheap. They are plenty of cheap products out there with cheap quality to match. It’s just very reasonably priced. It will never replace TC CHARTON, but it’s a great extension of your collection”.
Recently, my daughter came to the office to pick a frame for her upcoming eye exam. Out of over 150 styles, she ended up picking a TC Fit frame. When I asked her why she likes that particular frame, she said: “It has a great shape, and it’s very clean and fresh looking”.
That put a smile on my face.
I used to think something was wrong with my face.
When I was a child, my glasses would always slide down my nose. No matter what I did I could not find frames that fit me properly, and it made me think that the problem was with my face. It was an awful feeling. When I first started TC CHARTON, I was determined to do whatever I could to prevent other children from having those same feelings.
I recently had a very long conversation with Mark Shupnick, an optician with over 40 years of experience in his field. He is going to be giving a lecture about the importance of children’s eye care at the upcoming Vision Expo West in Las Vegas, and had a lot of interesting things to say on the topic. As a mother of three, this is something that I have always been concerned about.
We are noticing that more and more children, especially among the Asian population, become far-sighted. Most eye care professionals blame prolonged use of electronic devices and the lack of outdoor activities.
When children can’t see well, they simply cannot read and learn accordingly. Moreover, a child that wears a pair of frames that keeps sliding down means their vision is not being properly corrected.
Making sure that children take annual eye exams, wear glasses that stay put, and protect their eyes from harmful UV rays while outdoors are simple ways to correct their vision.
A lot of parents are only vaguely aware of this issue, which is why it is so important for people like Mark to spread awareness. Hopefully the opticians, once informed, will pass on the message, and I want to do my part as well.
As far as I know, TC CHARTON is the only collection that offers an entire line of kids and teen Asian-fit frames. I feel that it is very important to not only give them glasses that fit properly early on, but to also provide them with many styles to express themselves with.
That being said, I am often asked why I don’t offer sunglasses for children. There are a few reasons for this.
Our frames and sunglasses are made with the highest-quality materials we can find, but a lot of parents are worried that their children will break or lose them. I already lowered our kids and teens prices substantially in an effort to encourage parents to give their children the right fit, but while most parents recognize the benefits of our frames, they would still be reluctant to give them sunglasses at a higher price point. To those parents, I often suggest an alternative solution: fitting their TC frames with transition lenses.
Transition lenses change from light to dark in the sunlight, so the child can wear their frames both indoors and outdoors without any problems. This saves the parents from buying two different frames, and means the child doesn’t have to keep track of multiple pairs of glasses. Just doing something this simple can make a big difference.
I grew up dealing with frames that never fit my Asian bridge. It was frustrating and made me feel inadequate. As a mother, I do not wish any child to EVER have to feel this way. As members of the eye care community, people like Mark and I must do everything we can to raise awareness on this topic. Please, if you are a parent, make sure to give your children regular eye exams. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit more for frames that can actually stay on their bridge, and please fit them with transition lenses. The eyes of your children will thank you for it.
A few weeks ago I traveled to Hawaii on a business trip. My original intention was just to visit our retail locations in the area, but a nice little coincidence led me to meet with actress and musician Arden Cho. We had agreed to cosponsor her Aloha Summer Concert series and a music video during the same week, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet her.
I’ve been watching Arden closely for almost a year now. Aside from her role on Teen Wolf, she also appeared as a guest star on Hawaii Five-0 and has a number of other roles in both live action productions and voice over. She caught my attention because she has a very positive public image and a strong presence on social media, so I always thought she would be the right type of Asian celebrity to represent our frames.
We had brunch at the Kahala Mandarin Hotel, and when we met I was immediately enchanted. She is a sweet, charming young woman with a strong, but quiet confidence. We had a wonderfully pleasant conversation while I fit her in some of our frames, and I’m pleased to say that she looks fabulous in them.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccup with the music video. The location, a beautiful run down building, was no longer available. So instead, we agreed to create a video for her Youtube channel to promote the concert. The video featured a number of scenes with her wearing our frames while her songs played in the background. I was quite impressed with the professionalism of the crew she assembled locally, and the video, needless to say, came out beautifully.
The VIP ticket holders of the concert got to attend a BBQ house party with Arden at an ocean front property just outside of Honolulu. During the party, I was able to witness firsthand how sweet and warm she is to her fans who were clearly ecstatic to be able to meet her.
That same night, I attended her concert, and it was an absolute blast. She sang a lot of covers but also has an impressive repertoire of original songs that she has written over the years. As a music lover, I love the idea of being a part of her entrance into the music industry, and I believe that she will eventually make a big impact using this medium for her artistic expression.
I may not be in the target demographic of Teen Wolf, but I am a huge fan of her talents. It’s clear that she has earned her place as one of the few Asian actors playing an important role in the mainstream American entertainment industry. I truly feel that there needs to be more Asian celebrities like her in the public eye, especially those that can inspire the younger generation of Asian Americans to do the same.
My experience with Arden Cho has been something I will cherish for many years to come. I’m looking forward to the next time we can collaborate on a project together.
Has it already been almost six years?
Back when I first started in the fall of 2009, I remember how anxious I felt going from practice to practice with my meager tray of 5 styles. I wasn’t sure how my Asian Fit glasses would be received, but I soon found that I wasn’t the only one who saw the value of an eyewear collection designed to fit Asian faces.
So, encouraged by eye care professionals and consumers alike, I pressed on and came out with several new designs, each one inspired by a different Asian face. Every frame is named after the muse that sparked its creation, and I hold each and every one of them close to my heart.
As time went by, the designs of the new styles became gradually simpler. While this was not a conscious effort on my part, I eventually came to embrace it. The very nature of the product requires it to act as both a fashion accessory and a medical device, so why not design them to be as elegant and efficient as possible? I refer to this design philosophy as “Utility Luxe,” and it is the core concept for all of our newest styles; as Arrigo Cipriani once said: “luxury is the expression of a complex simplicity.”
To me, the purpose of TC CHARTON Asian Fit Eyewear is to act as an extension of the person wearing it. It must fit perfectly and effortlessly, like a well-tailored suit or a little black dress. It must act as a second skin, flawlessly functional and cleverly chic. And it must become an integral part of their fashion by blending seamlessly into their wardrobe, personality and sense of style.
This is what I strive for: complete and utter perfection.
In this way, crafting a simpler design does not mean I have to make do with less, but rather, allows the craftsmanship to become more polished. I continue to introduce beautiful eye shapes to match Asian features and pair them with exquisite acetates and the highest quality components the industry has to offer.
My production team often tells me how difficult it is to make my products, but I intend to stick by my principles. I believe that a great fit is worth the effort.