For Asians, eyeglasses simply don’t work. Traditional designs are made for European bone structures and don’t address those with flat nose bridges and high cheekbones. The only choice is to adjust the nose bridge on metal frames, but that’s only part of the solution. Alex Charton, an Asian eyewear designer, says it’s not that features are “wrong”, it’s that eyewear isn’t designed for every face. Charton saw an opportunity and got sick of waiting for someone to do it, so with five designers by her side she created TC Charton. Charton released her designer line of custom frames this spring at the Vision Expo in New York City.
TC Charton offers 19 eyeglass frames and 14 sunglass frames with names like “Alex”, “Raymond” and “Dina” all aimed at the Asian market. The idea for the line began while Charton was developing eyewear for luxury brands in Europe and she was getting requests to create “Asian Fitting” eyeglass models. This term, coined by the companies, simply referred to “their standard models equipped with higher nose pads,”
Charton says. The designer saw an opportunity for a new product to fill a void in the marketplace, but she also saw an opportunity to respond to the personal laments of friends who would always say, “I can’t find anything because my bridge is too low, my nose is too flat, or my cheekbones are too high.” Charton had to stop them and point out “there’s nothing wrong with your features, it’s just that those models weren’t designed for your features.”
Charton chooses to focus on handmade acetate frames because “Asian people don’t have a hard time wearing metal frame glasses because they’ve got nose pads with adjustable arms, but when it comes to plastic frames it’s a losing battle.” She works to create fashionable, plastic frames that don’t slide down the nose or rest on the cheeks. As the line was being developed and manufactured in Hong Kong, Charton took advantage of the 50 Asian employees of all face shapes: wide, skinny, narrow, and long and had them try on all the different frames at various stages of the design process. She began to see firsthand that one Asian Fit version couldn’t fit everyone.
The line is officially called Asian Fit Eyewear and when asked about any potential controversy around the nomenclature, Charton says that, “It’s not offensive to me, I never thought of having typical Asian features as a negative thing.” Charton didn’t invent the term herself—she credits Oakley with popularizing the phrase when the company released three sunglass models under the title Asian Fit back in 2005—but she is the first to fully redesign the bridge and glasses to fit the Asian face. Charton’s international design experience helps her understand that creating a custom fit is not just about aesthetics, it’s also about eye health.
Design Strategist, Joy Liu of Jump Associates, a growth strategy firm in San Mateo, California spent last spring with eyewear professionals across the Bay Area and in parts of Europe to study eye care health and the industry. Liu explains that, “Optometrists in Europe have a better understanding of what frames work with people’s faces because they write prescriptions as well as recommend frames for particular facial structures. It’s different in the US because optometrists don’t help with frame selection as part of eye care health.” Charton recognizes the importance of a correct fit on prescription eyewear so that the eyes see through the center of lenses. When the fit isn’t right, standard glasses slide down the nose so the eye only sees through the top half of each lens. With a correct custom fit, it helps keep eyes healthy.
Custom fit eyewear is a burgeoning trend for both small shops and large corporations. Indivijual, an online eyeglass company based out of Abilene, Texas imports eco-friendly sheets of Italian plastic to cut and hand carve into eyeglass frames. Indivijual walks each customer through the process of creating a completely original pair of glasses taking into consideration face shape, nose bridge height, and even personality. Similarly, sport and lifestyle brand Oakley brought the concept of customized fit to the masses with their line of eyewear and goggles specifically engineered to fit Asian faces.
With a clear market for customized fit eyewear, how does Charton make her mark? Compare TC Charton’s “Alex” eyeglass frame next to a standard pair of glasses. The contrast lies in the engineering of the nose bridge. The triangle shape at the nose has a bigger opening on the Alex with plastic nose pads that are visibly larger and come in at a sharper angle. It creates a solid fit that doesn’t shift or do any squeezing or sliding. As for aesthetics, the eyeglasses have beautiful faceted-edges flanking each side of the lens that adds a sculptural detail to otherwise standard eyewear. The Alex has a unique, nuanced style and the only design element that is out of the place is the metal TC Charton nameplates on the stems. The nameplates have a shiny chrome finish and they’re disproportionally large for the small space; it interrupts the smooth visual flow from the lens edge down the stem.
While paying attention to form and shape, the company also differentiates itself from the standard eyewear industry by creating frames in colors that complement Asian skin tones. Charton explains that she “hardly ever sees Asians that can pull off very light pastel colors.” She uses the example of creating something for a European woman. Charton “would pick lilac, but for Asian skin tones you have to go eggplant.” She explains that darker and richer hues flatter Asian skin tones much better.
TC Charton makes considered design choices to deliver customized frames that exhibit clean lines yet feel substantial in the hand. Charton notes that in our culture “the European [face] is embedded as the defender of beauty.” She wants to create something that lets people see that there isn’t anything wrong with their features. She created TC Charton in “the hope that it changes the way people see themselves.”