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.
“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.
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.
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
On Saturday, January 26th, TC CHARTON’s annual high-energy photo shoot took place on a sunny rooftop overlooking Downtown Los Angeles. Halfway through the day we changed location for the evening portion to shoot a stylish new look book for the unveiling of ALEXANDRA PENG, a new line of eyewear coming out, with launch set for Spring 2013 in Milan.
We are fortunate that our teams have all worked together before, with the addition of star photographer, Dean Zulich. The photo and video shoot sequences we captured will create the new 2013 campaign for TC CHARTON’s newest eyewear collection.
What a great way to kick off another year for TC CHARTON, our whole photo shoot had good energy, we all worked really well together, enjoyed an awesome day, and had a fun wrap for the crew and talent.
We are excited to share the new collection images with you throughout the coming year.
Call to Action
Look out for these new styles in your local optometry shops across the nation, and soon internationally!
Photography by Dean Zulich, with Studio Manager Sedina Sokolovic, and Digital Tech Mirza Hasanefendic. Cinematography by Keith Duggan.
Styling by Victor Vargas, Editor-in-Chief of LUXETIGERS online magazine, assisted by Ervina Topalli. Makeup by Elena Arroy, and Hair Artistry by Sussy Campos.
Models Yun Choi, Yuki Matsumura, Charlene Phan, & Crystal Natsuko.
Creative Direction and all Eyewear Designs by Alexandra Peng, founder of Prolouge Vision LLC.