Charles & Keith
Founded in 1996 by brothers Mr Charles Wong and Mr Keith Wong, Charles & Keith was initially envisioned to specialise in ladies’ footwear. Now a well-loved Singaporean fashion brand, Charles & Keith also manufactures ladies’ bags and accessories. Having started from a simple shoe store at Amara Hotel in Singapore, the company has now expanded overseas and has over 400 stores worldwide, such as in the Middle East and Japan.
Mr Charles Wong is one of the founders of Charles & Keith and established his company at the age of 22. As he was less inclined towards his academics, Mr Wong devoted much thought into what he wanted to accomplish with his life. The free time that he had while serving National Service also allowed him to contemplate this life issue more. Having assisted his mother at their small shoe shop in the heartlands of Ang Mo Kio since young, Mr Wong has been greatly exposed to the shoe industry. This experience then motivated him in that direction and inspired him to create his own brand of footwear.
However, Mr Wong’s entrepreneur journey was not easy and was filled with mistakes. He commented that “(he) learnt a lot by making mistakes” and that it was important for him to take risks to succeed. For example, whilst considering opening a second branch of his shop, he encountered an extremely high rental rate of $15,000 a month. Given than Mr Wong was only 22 at the time and did not have much capital, deciding to commit to opening the branch was an extremely risky move. However, it was a rare opportunity for him to expand his business and he did not want to waste this chance.
Conflicted, Mr Wong decided to seek the advice of others and remembered vividly that his uncle encouraged him to take the leap of faith and invest in opening the second shop. Otherwise, he would always be haunted by the regret of not trying at all. Mr Wong took this advice and fortunately, his gamble paid off. This second store went on to become the springboard for the opening of subsequent stores and was crucial in the expansion of Charles & Keith.
Mr Wong highlights the importance of working both hard and smart. As he did not do so well in school, he then had to work much harder than others to achieve success. However, Mr Wong believes that one also has to work smart and consider his options carefully. Mr Wong often tries to learn from the experience of others to leverage on their technical expertise. Self-improvement is important and to him, it is a life-long journey. Hence, one should always be ready to grasp any opportunity to learn with both hands.
Under his leadership, the Charles & Keith brand has won numerous accolades to date, including the Excellent Service Award in 2002 and The Enterprise Award at the Singapore Business Awards 2008.