$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.

 

 

 


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.


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.


“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication” – Leornardo Da Vinci

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.

~Alexandra Peng


Media Frenzy at Vision Expo East, New York By Alexandra Peng

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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.

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Why A Black American Model?

By Alexandra Peng
Founder of Prolouge Vision / Designer of TC CHARTON & Alexandra Peng Collections

When I first envisioned the TC CHARTON collection, I had only one simple mission in mind — I wanted to offer beautiful and chic eyewear products to Asian Americans. More precisely, all Asian people who reside in this great country. As one of them, I want to do something for my fellow Asian Americans who work so hard to be an integral part of this nation, and call this land our own, even if we are only 12 % of its entire population. Sometimes, we must work harder to prove ourselves. Sometimes, we must face conflicting sets of values that are different than our ancestors’ cultural heritages. As much as we feel just as American as everyone else, we look different than a Caucasian person. Being a “minority” is challenging at times, but feeling bad about how we look shouldn’t be one of them. We are simply built differently.

TC CHARTON is here to offer you glasses that are designed with your specific facial structure in mind. So when you wear them, you don’t have to wish you had Caucasian features just so the glasses won’t slide down or sit on your cheeks. You no longer need to secretly wish for plastic surgery every time you feel frustrated while shopping for glasses!

Of course, diversity is a beautiful thing. It is what makes this nation so great, and it is the inevitable future. As the world gets smaller, people from different parts of the world mingle, interracial marriages are becoming more and more common, and we are witnessing a shift from what used to be “normal” and the so called “standard”. We are creating the new norms, and the world is a better place because of it. Esthetically TC CHARTON is true to the American sense of style, but technically they are shaped and built to NOT fit the same as conventional eyewear.

I am not here to exclude, I am here to include ALL of us who used to feel excluded and forgotten by the eyewear industry.

The old “standard fit” is still good for the majority, but it is not for me, nor you. Every season, I try to offer different designs that can serve a specific need: faces with extremely low bridges, faces that are very wide, faces with very high arches, faces with very small PDs…For 2014, we are including some sophisticated styles for petite men and women, and more styles for people with low but wider bridges.

Only recently I started to notice that we have a following of Black Americans and Blasians (Black American and Asian mix) and also Latinos. We even have some Caucasian fans! While I am extremely happy about the fact that my products are serving a much wider demography that I hadn’t thought of before, it also makes me wonder whether I was wrong all along to call this collection “Asian Fit”.

I didn’t mean to exclude. I want my products to be worn by anybody who needs them. Everybody deserves glasses that fit and are beautiful at the same time.

After months of pondering over this and even taking online polls through our Facebook page, I am finally at peace with myself. I know my collection is the antithesis of exclusion, and my fans know it too. While I must not forget that most of my inspiration comes from Asian faces, and therefore TC CHARTON is foremost an Asian Fit collection, I am thrilled and happy to know that our products are also serving some of my fellow Americans of other ethnicities.

This photo shoot is my response to all of our fans that are NOT Asians — I present to you, Eldridge Henderson, my incredibly handsome Black model, who flew in from San Francisco to be part of our shoot.

Among hundreds of models’ portfolios, Eldridge caught my eye because I saw a picture of him wearing a pair of Ray Ban frames and while his wardrobe and pose were impeccable, I noticed that the frames were not sitting properly on his nose bridge. That’s when I knew he would be perfect in this photoshoot. This is not the first time that I have designed styles to fit nose bridges that are wide and low, but it is the first time that we found the right model to showcase this style.

This is my way of saying Thank You to ALL of You.