Sunny Disposition: Charina Sarte on Managing from a Distance, Sustainable Fashion, and Making the Big Leagues of Luxury Retail - LA Lives

Her resort wear collection is now carried by 30 international outlets including Le Bon Marche and Saks.

When Charina Sarte started her eponymous label, she lived in the tropical Philippines. Inspired by the archipelago’s seemingly endless summer, her pieces invoke its sunshine through vibrant prints and lively shades.

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And while they’re made for trips under the sun, the silhouettes include flowing dresses, breathable eyelet cover-ups, and floral co-ords. With a career spanning 15 years, Sarte’s brand is carried by some of the most prestigious department stores worldwide like Paris’ Le Bon Marche, New York’s Saks, Intermix, Bloomingdale’s, and Amazon subsidiary Shopbop.

“Endless summer is an aspiration that we want people to feel when they see our brand,” she tells Lifestyle Asia. “The joy of a promising summer that you don’t want to end. We want to make pieces that make our clients in colder countries look forward to warmer seasons so they can wear us.”

The designer initially began by experimenting with making bikinis without a formal fashion education. Then, she started selling them as a hobby, “and the rest became history. My family, particularly my cousins, who were designers, were very supportive and taught me the ropes. Where to source material, buy machines, even helped me in hiring staff. I really had to learn everything as I went along. [Looking back], I really can’t believe how far I’ve gone and where this career has taken me.”

A display of Sarte’s collection in Bloomingdale’s

Working from Paris

Nowadays, the designer resides in Paris with her French husband Valentin Kretz and their son Noah. Despite this, Sartre keeps the brand’s production 100 percent in the Philippines, staying true to her brand’s tropical DNA. But running a company long distance doesn’t come without challenges.

“I never imagined I could make this work before I moved. I had the idea, but I wasn’t sure,” Sarte looks back. “It was actually feasible. I was working on the phone and would go home every few months. To see my staff, buy fabric, and do trunk shows. When the pandemic happened, I couldn’t go back to Manila. I had to exclusively work from a distance.”

Fille de la Mer

In the French capital, she decided to work with cotton and linen, sustainable materials, for her collections. Sarte says she feels strongly about fashion’s shift to being eco-conscious. “When I stumbled into working with Hand Block cotton from Jaipur. I just fell in love with the tradition that came with it, and the fact that they are printed with vegetable dyes on 100 percent organic cotton that is sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable made it even more my fabric of choice to work with,” she says.

Up to now, the Human Resource Management graduate buys fabric through photos, holds fittings online, and shells out significant DHL shipping expenses to study pieces from Paris. However, Sarte’s grateful that despite the hurdles of the pandemic and distance, the past two years were full of achievements for the brand since being carried by famous stockists.

La Femme Soleil

Global representation

“I am lucky to have found representation in Europe and the US,” Sartre says. In fact, Le Bon Marche’s fashion buyers reached out and visited her home to view her collections. While Saks, Bloomingdales, and New York boutique Intermix got in touch online.

“I couldn’t believe my lucky stars this would ever happen, especially since before I got in all these stores, there was a time I was emailing agents all over to see if they would work with us. No one even cared to reply,” Sartre recalls. “Until I joined a trade show in Paris where Shopbop picked me up. From there, doors started opening for us.”

Le Voyage

Now, including the stockists she considers “the big leagues,” her resort wear collections are available in 30 international outlets.

In her creative process, Sarte begins making a mood board, similar to many designers. “I gather the materials, the fabrics, [and such]. We have a hand block printer for our cotton prints, so I work with them to produce our beautiful prints. I usually have the designs in mind before the fabric comes, but ideas can also come while I’m sampling.”

But being a designer spans beyond the design process, as building a brand means maintaining the business. Although Sarte admits, she’s “not the most business-savvy person,” what she has is intuition.

“I try to create things that people feel they must have. I’m a big shopper myself, and every time I buy something, I always have this feeling,” she says. “So when I design and create, I try to keep this in mind.”

Sartre describes pursuing her brand as one of the biggest adventures of her life after experiencing rejection, having to take out a loan for capital, and facing the challenge of staying relevant.

After all, now based in Paris, it’s sometimes hard for Sarte to stay in a sunny mindset when it’s dark and gray during winter. But given her tropical roots, being in that state of mind is natural to her.

This story was first published in the March 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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