It reflects Charles & Keith’s sixth-generation store concept, which we launched in Q4 of 2021, in tandem with our silver jubilee. While featuring gradual curves and fluid lines, we’ve gone with a minimal colour scheme to achieve a clean, pared-back and modern aesthetic.
Given our high regard for local craftsmanship and commitment to sustainability, the visual experience team created light-green, corrugated display stands crafted from locally sourced, environmentally friendly recycled materials. Walls in the store feature exquisite pleats inspired by traditional Taiwanese cement sandblasting techniques.
Moving forward with all store openings reflecting this new concept, we’ll try to inject the personality of the cities they’re situated in, by working with local artisans or suppliers to create unique visual elements that tell a story of the place.
IRA: Tell me about the virtual store experience and what it looks like.
KW: The virtual store is meant to immerse guests into the world of Charles & Keith without them leaving the comfort of their home. It allows them to be transported to an exact virtual replica of our new concept stores and with just a click, roam around and explore each nook and cranny, interacting with all the features that we have thoughtfully designed for an elevated online shopping experience.
Specific playlists that we have curated for each shop are also available, to accompany guests on their journey around the store.
IRA: What are some of the biggest long-term changes Charles & Keith has made since Covid-19 hit?
KW: We’ve made great strides in digitisation, including sizeable investments to update our back-end systems to ensure the success of our growing e-commerce business.
Like many others in the industry, this pandemic has made us slow down and reassess what is most important to us as a brand. We want to be more conscious that our core philosophies, including people empowerment and driving purpose, are reiterated, both inside and out – from company policies that impact internal stakeholders, to how we approach product development and campaigns targeting end consumers.
IRA: Charles & Keith is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. How has retail evolved since you first launched the business and what have been some of the most interesting observations you’ve made in that time?
KW: Technology and how it can be adopted into the retail experience have evolved immensely in the past 25 years. This has certainly reinforced the need to be agile and constantly innovate.
While many brands are quick to jump on new trends in the ever-changing digital landscape, and we ourselves get really excited about the prospects and possibilities, there is a fine balance that needs to be struck: Sometimes it pays to be more measured in your approach, only pushing out something thoughtfully planned that truly resonates with your customer.
IRA: What do you think excellence and success look like in the retail sector in the current climate?
KW: Customer satisfaction is still at the heart of any retail success story. In today’s environment, it encompasses everything from products to even your brand values – as customers move toward more intentional, ethical consumerism. All this, while ensuring an excellent user experience, be it online or offline.
IRA: How would you describe the fashion and accessories category right now?
KW: Still a highly vibrant category that has the potential to effect real change in the world.
IRA: One of the biggest topics right now in fashion is sustainability. What is Charles & Keith doing in that space?
KW: We’ve taken some baby steps, launching several eco-friendly capsules, such as our Purpose Sneaker Collection and the latest 25th-Anniversary Series, both crafted from recycled materials. In the immediate pipeline, we have an exciting collaboration with the B2B arm of a peer brand that we’ve long admired for their revolutionary approach to material science – so look out for that announcement.
This is merely the beginning, though, and we’re committed as a brand to a greener future. We’re putting together an in-house taskforce, whose mandate is to consistently review how we can adopt a more sustainable approach in all aspects of how we do business – beyond just products and materials.
IRA: What are your plans for the business in 2022 and is further international expansion on the cards?
KW: Further international expansion is indeed on the cards, but we’re mindful that all our stores globally need to be purposefully placed. We’re also intent on moving in a more eco-friendly direction as a group.
IRA: How do you think physical retail has to evolve in 2022 to lure customers away from their mobile phones?
KW: Interactive experiences, pop-ups, collaborations – there are a wealth of levers that brands can use to enhance the physical retail experience, especially with the technology we’re afforded today.
IRA: Charles & Keith has an impressive 600 stores around the globe. How do you ensure that customers have the ideal Charles & Keith experience no matter where they are in the world, and what does that look like?
KW: Our global team, based out of our Singapore headquarters, is still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations, staff training, and visual merchandising of each store. The team works closely with our franchisee partners and satellite offices, where necessary, to ensure our brand identity is kept consistent around the world.
IRA: Your mother owned a shoe store and you helped turn the business around. Can you tell me more about that story and the lessons you learnt from that experience?
KW: When we first started out, our shoes were bought from the same wholesalers as our competitors; the lack of unique products meant that we were never going to grow.
We saw the potential of designing our own products and creating a brand that consumers could identify with, so we started to retail fully in-house designed products by 2000 – many of our first collections were directly inspired by customer feedback received when we were on the shop floors.
This taught us the importance of always staying curious and the power of listening to your customers, something we endeavour to adhere to as we continue to grow our business today.