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.
“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.
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.
By Crystal Natsuko
Model for TC CHARTON
On January 29, 2014, we shot the 2014 TC CHARTON photo shoot with a special twist, adding some Texas flair to our upscale Asian look. Alexandra has gotten a flood of requests for new images, and we are excited to share this year’s new campaign images with you, very soon! Here is a breakdown and behind the scenes peek of how the photo shoot went. Yeeehaw!
Since moving her company, family and loyal employees to their new national headquarters in Plano, Texas last November 2013 TC CHARTON has continued to expand product lines and inluence to fans and beautiful unique faces around the world. Owner and designer, Alexandra Peng, decided to infuse this year’s photo shoot with local flavor and charm and to that end, scouted photographers, videographers, crew and location all from the Dallas area to reflect that TC CHARTON’s new home is the Friendly State of Texas.
Models were flown in the day before. Yun and I departed from Los Angeles and headed to Dallas, and I was surprised that we went across to the ocean, for a while after takeoff, apparently planes fly directly into the wind initially and then turn into the air currents, a pilot friend of mine later explained to me. After a few hours, Regis picked Yun, Eldridge and I up from Dallas International, one of the largest airports in the country.
Alexandra, Regis and the girls, and their new rescue puppy, Cocoa, were gracious to host us. Alexandra welcomed us by making an incredible fresh cherry tomatoes and spinach pasta in under 10 mins flat, no problem. With some non-vegetarian options on the side. It was the best tasting thing in the world as we were hungry and tired, then we all tried to get our beauty rest.
The day of the shoot was cold. Outside it was something like 30 degrees. We drove up North through Dallas, until we reached the outskirts of the city and civilization began to fade away as we marveled at the beautiful, raw scenery. The landscape reminded me of California’s Central Valley where I grew up, stunning yet stark and utilitarian with agriculture being the main industry. We reached the ranch and cottage location.
We had brought enough snacks to feed our little army for the day and everyone quickly set up. Our first set was shot in the upstairs of the barn. Our hosts at the ranch were the owners, a great husband and wife team who had built the structures on the ranch by themselves, him putting reclaimed wood together to build the vintage replica barn, the cottage where we staged the shoot, and possibly their own house, with amazing loving care and attention to detail. She had designed the interiors thoughtfully using reclaimed materials, like champagne corks of different kinds for drawer pulls in the Jack-and-Jill bathrooms.
Makeup artist, Leslie, had arrived early to scout out the best lighting in the cottage and did the makeup and hair for all the models in a window corner where the sun filtered in. Alexandra had opted to do lead styling herself, tying all aspects of her vision for the brand together by choosing pieces that reflect the lifestyle and upscale nature of the brand, but also playing on down-to-earth all American staples like jeans wear, tall boots, flannels, white collared shirts, and leather jackets. Bradie meticulously and efficiently coordinated logistics and wardrobe changes and steamed the garments to perfection.
The videographer and his crew and photographer, Sergio and his crew, who are all Dallas locals, seemed able to survive outdoors in the cold on the various sets for most of the day, while us models, who are all from sunny California, took turns reheating and defrosting ourselves indoors at the Cottage and outdoors in front of an amazing bonfire that the awesome owners lit up for us with a healthy dose of kerosene.
This is my new favorite picture, ever. The dogs belonged to the ranch owners and wandered into the shots with some coaxing, since they were doing the rounds.
Alexandra had chosen Eldridge, a FORD model who hails from San Francisco and was referred by our other model, Charlene, (featured in the counterpart Alexandra Peng collection photo shoot that took place the following Saturday) because Alex had gotten so many inquiries from all around the country, for a Blasian look. I learned that Blasian refers to a mix between Asian and Black American, which is distinct from the identity term, African American. As Alexandra pointed out, Eldridge was making history and creating images that are a sign of our times, as these glasses do fit a variety of faces from all ethnic backgrounds and mixes.
In a hilarious but also awe inspiring moment, Eldridge was helped out by two canny horses, who stepped into the frame on either side of him, while he was posing next to their corral, amazingly the horses held perfectly still and faced the camera. Whoever says animals aren’t aware and sentient beings misses the meaning in moments like these.
Towards the end of the day, we were racing the sunlight, squeezing out as many sets as we could. Luckily, my last wardrobe change and set was inside the cottage, as the temperature simultaneously dropped lower as the sun did. It was a very productive and smooth flowing day, as everyone pitched in and worked together as pros. We celebrated another successful wrap at the Brick House in Dallas, a local sports bar where everyone we met was super cute and friendly!
Location: The Cottage At Bon Terra Farm Aubrey, TX
Photographer: Sergio Garcia
Videographer: Bruce Faulconer
TC CHARTON Asian Fit Eyewear Designs/Stylist: Alexandra Peng
Makeup/Hair: Leslie Belcher
Models: Yun Choi, Eldridge Henderson, Crystal Natsuko