The “Zara” or “H&M” of fashion accessories has found its way to the Philippines.
Charming Charlie, the Houston, Texas-founded company selling affordable versions of trendy fashion accessories, opened its first store in Southeast Asia without fanfare last December at Central Square Mall in Bonifacio Global City.
The brand, with 350 stores in 40 US states, is expanding across Asia and the Middle East, and it sees the Philippines as its ideal gateway to the region, owing to the Filipinos’ love of fashion and their affinity to American brands, said Enrique Nehme, VP for international business development.
At roughly 150 square meters, the Central Square store is the brand’s smallest. A typical Charming Charlie store is at least four times that, said Nehme. Its New York City flagship is over 1,400 sq m.
Nonetheless, the sheer variety of merchandise selection shouldn’t leave the Filipino shopper wanting. It’s still the biggest single all-accessories boutique in the country.
The store is laid out based on “color stories,” to give an easier shopping experience and style ideas for the fashion clueless. Each color category has jewelry, watches, handbags, scarves and sunglasses.
It sends out 24 color stories a year, with a featured color each month, such that you will find items in basic neutrals or vibrant hues of coral, turquoise, mint and purple.
In its US stores, the brand carries apparel pieces to complement the accessories—the opposite of Zara and H&M.
“Those brands will do and die in apparel. We separate ourselves by doing the opposite,” said Nehme.
“The accessories industry is fragmented,” he added. “They either do it on a smaller scale or as a complementary business. They are apparel brands that also happen to sell accessories. Accessories are our daily bread.”
Charming Charlie’s price ranges from P200 to just north of P2,000 for the handbags. “It’s unrivaled value,” the executive said. “We’re a one-stop shop for accessories. Consider the variety. And the experience is upscale.”
The Central Square store has gilded bright-red doors, the merchandise neatly laid out. “This store alone is boutique-like and more curated. There are players competing solely on pricing, but now the shopping experience also comes into play.”
Charming Charlie was founded in October 2004 by Charlie Chanaratsopon, 37, first-generation US-born son of Thai immigrants. The brand started selling excess inventory from the silver jewelry business of Chanaratsopon’s parents.
At the time, the business wiz was taking a break from building strip malls in Houston. In just 10 years, he would grow the brand to 350 stores.
“He has a lot of energy and ideas,” Nehme said of the company’s young chief executive. “He’s very entrepreneurial. He wants to create a brand that’s bigger than its business. He’s focused on making an impact in any project he gets involved in. As an American brand going into global markets, we want it to resonate with customers abroad as it does in the US.”
Charming Charlie’s core market in the US is the mid-20s category. It’s slightly younger in the Philippines.
The products have no distinguishing logos. “When you buy, what you represent is the trend,” said Nehme. “We have trendy products. It’s for those who want an assortment, who want bags in different colors. You can buy on an impulse. You might like one from a luxury brand, but you don’t have the disposable income; that’s where we come in.”
Another store is set to open later this year with the brand’s local partner, Stores Specialists Inc.