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.
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.
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.
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.
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 have to say, one of the perks of reaching out to bloggers and other media types, is that you never know what the common thread is going to be that makes you say, “OMG, that girl is SO COOL!!!”
Well, I can tell you that Chris Lam http://www.whatiruninto.com is sassy, practical minded, loves sci-fi, urban fantasy books (think Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, not the 50 Shades of Grey type fantasy, ok?) and she apparently has had problems in the past finding eyewear that fits her, AND she thinks TC Charton Asian Fit Eyewear provides a fabulous fit. We’ve partnered with her to offer a lucky winner a pair of TC Chartons. Check out her blog and get on it!
Mochi Magazine is like having the big Asian sister you never had. The awkward years I experienced as a tween/teen Asian girl with no clue about how to dress, how to put on make up or how to let the cute boy in class know I was interested (hitting him in the head certainly didn’t work), all those questions and more, can be found in an issue of Mochi Magazine. But more than that, it’s empowering. It offers young Asian girls and women a roster of role models to look up to, it makes you realize your brand of beauty is awesome! That’s why I am happy to see TC Charton Eyewear featured in the latest issue.