Why y’all gotta shit on a girl for calling Charles & Keith ‘luxury’?

Heard of luxury-lite?

Fasiha Nazren |
January 11, 2023, 6:59 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

A wholesome TikTok video of a Singaporean teenager named Zoe excitedly showing off her “first luxury bag”—a Charles & Keith tote gifted by her father—has quickly soured with comments mocking her for labelling the Singaporean line as a luxury brand.

@zohtacothank you dad 🥹♬ Glitch – Just audios

This was the S$80 item that caused quite a stir on the internet:

Photo from Charles & Keith’s website.

The TikTok video has garnered many unnecessary comments that, of course, were left by anonymous accounts.

Responding to one of the negative comments, Zoe tearfully explained that she considers it a luxury as growing up she and her family “did not have a lot”.

@zohtaco Replying to @cressy ♬ original sound – zoe 🦋

Now, what is Charles & Keith and why is it causing such a big hoo-ha? (Spoiler: It shouldn’t have.)

The evolution

Charles & Keith is a Singaporean label founded by two brothers, Charles and Keith Wong, in 1996.

They are known for women’s footwear and accessories.

The first outlet at Amara Shopping Centre has since become more than 600 outlets in over 30 countries, including China,  South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Charles & Keith’s progression in brand image over the years has also been impressive.

10 years ago, I would associate Charles & Keith shoes with office ladies. Don’t get me wrong, office ladies are great and an asset to our workforce.

But office ladies wear office wear, which is safe and boring. Boo.

While there are still office-friendly offerings, Charles & Keith has diversified to have trendier and edgier designs.

The brand has the younger generation in a chokehold, with several items going viral on TikTok including the Strappy Padded Platforms.

Photo from Charles & Keith.

@reyreynsyThese charles and keith shoes 😮‍💨♥️♬ im obsessed – 𝐻 🇦🇫

According to Forbes, the private equity arm of luxury group LVMH picked up a 20 per cent stake in Charles & Keith.

Oh, you know LVMH, the luxury French conglomerate that houses multiple renowned brands like LV, Fendi, and Celine. Did I mention that they specialise in luxury goods?

The Wong brothers have since bought back their stakes, however.

If it’s of any credence, Wikipedia names Charles & Keith as a Singaporean fashion house and luxury goods company. Emphasis on “luxury”.

To really emphasise that it’s Charles & Keith, and not Tom, Dick, and Harry, the brand has also seen South Korean idols like Itzy and f(x)’s Krystal Jung as ambassadors.

Which is similar to how Blackpink’s Lisa has been the face of Bvlgari, and Jackson Wang being one of MAC Cosmetics’ ambassadors.

I don’t know about you but to me, these look like big achievements for a fashion brand that is only 27 years young.

Zoe’s TikTok videos have since gained more than six million views and over 14,000 comments.

Unsurprisingly, most of these comments are now in support of Zoe, many of whom agree that Charles & Keith was their gateway to luxury items. A quick check online shows that Charles & Keith bags range from S$36.90 to S$199.

This gateway phenomenon has been coined “luxury-lite” by the Chinese.

She’s not actually wrong—heard of luxury-lite?

According to a 2020 academic study, luxury-lite brands are interpreted as foreign brands that serve people’s needs for social presence.

Luxury-lite is also often described as “less than the best” quality offered by luxury brands. In other words, it is a premium that is more accessible to the masses.

Apart from Charles & Keith, here are some other brands that are considered luxury-lite:

  • Kate Spade
  • Michael Kors
  • Coach
  • MCM
  • Calvin Klein

The same study mentioned that the luxury-lite industry is projected to grow into a US$90 billion (~ S$119.6 billion) business by 2025.

In fact, a February 2022 article by Chinese online media Toutiao reported that when searching for “1,000 yuan (S$196) bags” on social media site Xiaohongshu, there is an increasing number of consumers looking for “luxury lite hidden gems” — bags that are less common and have unique characteristics.

What this means, essentially, is that the trend among young consumers is to care about aesthetics and individuality over brand value or cost.

And let’s be real: Would you rather have a S$200 bag with S$20,000 in your bank account or a S$20,000 bag with S$200 in your bank account?

It’s free to let people enjoy things lol

There’s this cliche line that goes: “Money can’t buy you happiness.”

But in Zoe’s case, it’s clear that while the bag has an S$80 price tag, the fact that it was a gift from her loved one makes it invaluable and that makes her happy.

While it’s easy to make a seemingly harmless comment, it is also easy to, you know, keep our opinions to ourselves sometimes and let people enjoy things.

But you know what’s priceless compared to a S$200 (or S$80) luxury-lite bag? Getting an invitation from Charles and Keith themselves.

Marketing-Interactive reported that the fashion brand is in touch with Zoe and has invited her and her father to meet the founders over lunch and have a tour of their headquarters.


Top image from @zohtaco on TikTok.

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