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The Straits Times
Jan 12, 2023
The teen who was shamed online for calling Charles & Keith a “luxury” brand on TikTok is having the last laugh.
The brand invited Zoe Gabriel and her father to have lunch on Wednesday with its founders, brothers Charles and Keith Wong, who, “coming from humble beginnings, were so inspired by her humility”.
They also toured the Charles & Keith headquarters on Thursday.
Zoe posted about her visit, describing it as “fun”. Both Zoe and her father were taken on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the company. They met Keith Wong, who is also the chief executive, and he shared more about the company with them.
In addition to the black Double Handle Tote Bag which was featured in her TikTok, she was seen wearing a pair of Satin Platform Sandals from the brand in her post.
Zoe, 17, was mocked by some users after she uploaded a video to the social media platform on Sunday, thanking her father for her “first luxury bag” from the home-grown fashion brand. The Charles & Keith tote is priced at $79.90 on Charles & Keith’s website and the most expensive bag she owns.
While Charles & Keith remained mum on whether it would sponsor any bags for her or collaborate with her, a source from inside the company tells The Straits Times she was gifted “with products and vouchers”.
Other businesses are also plying her with gifts. Local ramen chain Takagi Ramen offered her family $80 in meal vouchers and Zoe thanked local hair salon Kimistry Hair Boutique for her “new look” in a video post.
thank you takagi ramen for the treat! eternally grateful <33 AND HAPPY 14K FOLLOWERS :0!! WOAAAH
thank you kimistry hair for gifting me my new look!! i love it so much, omg <33 ALSO HAPPY 25K FOLLOWERS?? WOAAAH
Zoe impressed many when she replied to the trolls by posting a follow-up video in which she tearily explains her humble background and talks about privilege.
She told ST via e-mail that her family moved to Singapore from the Philippines in 2010. While she declined to say more about her parents, ST understands that her father works as a mechanical engineer.
Both her clips on her bag have since gone viral, attracting a collective 8.5 million views.
“My family didn’t have a lot. We couldn’t buy things as simple as bread from BreadTalk… when we moved to Singapore… Your comment spoke volumes on how ignorant you seem because of your wealth,” said the eldest of four siblings, who is being home-schooled.
Charles & Keith reached out to Zoe after seeing her TikTok clip.
The company’s spokesman told ST in an e-mail: “Our hearts really went out to Zoe, but we were so impressed with (how gracefully) she handled the situation, displaying wisdom far beyond her years and values that resonated with us greatly.
“Our founders believe that our products should spark joy, empower fashion lovers and give them confidence, something we believe she presented so eloquently in her video and for which we are so grateful.”
Charles & Keith was founded by siblings Charles and Keith Wong in 1996, who learnt the ropes by working at their mother’s shoe store in Ang Mo Kio.
Mr Charles Wong, co-founder and chief executive of shoe retailer Charles & Keith Group of Companies. PHOTO: ST FILE
Starting out as a humble outlet at the former Amara Shopping Centre, the brand morphed into a household name not long after, growing to more than 600 stores and employing about 4,000 people worldwide.
In 2011, French luxury giant LVMH acquired 20 per cent of the company, but the brothers have since bought back the stake.
Many netizens said this viral episode highlights the ignorance of the privileged in Singapore.
Fund-raiser Ivy Wong, 31, said it reminded her of a similar experience from her past.
She said: “When I was young, one thing on my wishlist on my blog was ‘Branded clothes like Topshop’. One netizen commented that it is not branded and ‘high street at most’. But Topshop was already beyond what I could afford.”
She added: “This incident highlights the blind spot of people who grew up with privilege and take it for granted. They can’t imagine what it is like for peers to grow up in a low-to-middle income background.
“However, it is also heartening to witness those who have called out the ignorance of people who shamed this teenager. They show awareness of the inequalities that exist and do their part to level the playing field.”