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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
We are always excited to be part of Vision Expo East (VEE) the largest optical show here in the Big Apple every March, drawing over 30,000 eye care professionals, the movers and shakers of the optical industry. This year VEE was not different but yet, it was, since Asian in New York hosted a media reception so I could meet the Chinese news media.
I still cannot believe we were able to pull this off—as Diana had just a few days to put together a press release, contact journalists from different news organizations, and prepare the media reception. Little did I know that the turnout would be many of the invited press—-including ALL of the biggest names in Chinese news media? I thought we might end up having 3 or 4 journalists, at most, so we had set aside one hour for me to give a brief product presentation and Q&A. But after the introduction, each media outlet wanted a separate interview and the reception lasted almost 4 hours!
I did not take this opportunity to tell them how great our products are. What I did, however, was to really emphasize my journey—how I came to the realization that wearing an ill-fitted pair of glasses could actually impact how one sees her self-image, from a beauty standpoint; it is not our facial features that are at fault, and no, we do not need plastic surgery to reshape ourselves. Also, there are functional reasons why glasses need to fit, such as the importance of fitting children with glasses that won’t slide down, in order to truly correct their vision, and also wearing a pair of sunglasses that won’t slide down from your bridge since there is less protection from the UV rays around the delicate eye area.
I spoke to them about my passion, and I hope they heard and felt what I was trying to convey. This is not about creating just another brand of eyewear. It is NOT about ME, as a designer. This is bigger than me. It is about how we see ourselves in a world where the beauty standard is still largely Eurocentric. This is about being able to see better, and feel better.
The very next day, each one of those interviews turned into a feature story: MSN.com, Yahoo news, Sing Tao Daily, ETTV, The Epoch Times, WZRC Station, The Central News Agency of China, World Journal and more. The TV footage also aired in Taiwan and China the day after the media reception. I was thrilled to have the chance to be able to speak directly to the Chinese speaking consumers in my mother tongue, their own language. I hope some of them heard me, and will remember to demand their opticians for a pair of glasses that truly fit.