Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 16th 2017 Contents 2 | business in focus
July 16 . 2017
Ecliff Elie, fashion entrepreneur
How life lessons became business lessons...
“Business and life work the same
These are the words fashion design-
er and businessman Ecliff Elie says,
when asked what kind of advice he
gives to young people.
As the last of 15 children, Elie
watched his mother work for $500
monthly to put him through school
after his father died when Elie was
He witnessed electricity and wa-
ter being disconnected because his
mother did not have enough money
to pay the bills.
Sitting behind a glass topped
desk, made partly of the old sewing
machines used by his mother and
his 101-year-old grandmother, Elie is
quite happy to talk about his journey.
“Business and life is about making
decisions. Make a decision. Don’t have
one foot in and one foot out. Once you
make a decision, fall in love with it.”
“If you can’t fall in love with it, get
out and make another decision, and
once you make a decision, stop com-
“Everybody has a need and once
you understand that need and can
fulfill that need, you can do well. The
need I fulfilled was men’s designs that
are local, that people could feel proud
of and that is up to an international
standard.” Elie said
In 2016, Harvard Business School
published a study about the skills
which make entrepreneurs successful.
These skills include the ability to
identify opportunities, vision and
influence, comfort with uncertainty,
building networks and finance and
Elie’s story features examples of all
The Dream is Born
In 1989, when Elie was 14-years-old
and asked to choose the subjects he
would study in form four and five, he
chose tailoring, because it seemed
He recalled that both his mother
and sister used to sew.
“Within the first term of form four, I
built a clientèle in school. I would sew
free for people in my neighbourhood
By the time Elie finished school, his
mother was no longer supporting him.
At school, Elie had access to sewing
machines where he did all his work.
When school finished, he had new
concerns about how to make money.
After successfully working for
himself since the age of 14, he tried
to get a job.
“I tried to get a job as a security
guard and to work in a fabric store
and fast food and in a garment facto-
ry but nobody hired me. I got a little
frustrated.” he said
Elie never got that job he needed.
He moved to Arima, from Cunupia,
at age 18 and met a tailor called Tony
Isaac, who allowed him to use his sew-
ing machine whenever he had a client.
He also started saving his money to
purchase his own sewing machine, a
second-hand machine he bought for
“I saved up money, I would go pay
the man $60 one day, $100 a next day
until I saved up $4000. That was the
beginning and I started building up
my clientèle from there. Most of the
time it used to be referrals.”
Finding His Space
In Arima, Elie was known as a tailor.
People would bring their fabric and
he would make whatever they wanted.
As time went by, he realised he want-
ed to start designing.
“I started looking at brands and
realised people liked branding, Nike
and Adidas and those kind of things.
“I started buying fabric and sat down
and made about a thousand t-shirts
and got them printed with imitation
brand logos. I realised people buy
brand, they don’t really buy clothes.”
From his shop in Arima, Elie began
understanding his customer base and
adjusting his work to suit the demand.
“I started understanding how peo-
ple respond to branding and then I
stopped imitating clothes and shifted
focus to building my own brand.
“I started to position my brand, be-
cause at the end of the day you can get
clothes anywhere but you may not be
able to get an Ecliff Elie shirt or an
Ecliff Elie pants anywhere.
“I used to put Elie, never Ecliff Elie
because I have never liked the name.
One of my friends actually encouraged
me to use the name.
“I started using it in print after I cre-
ated my first email address and when
I saw the name in lower-case, joined
together, I liked how it looked.”
He soon made the decision to focus
on menswear only.
Elie said he learned from experi-
ence, and from feedback from custom-
ers about customer service and time
“People used to give me advice on
time management, on customer ser-
vice. I listened. Feedback from people
helped my business.
“One time this Syrian man from
Arima, Mr Hadeed had really liked
how I was sewing and he started giving
me fabric on credit and I ran up a bill
by him for about $900.
“So I had the money for him and I
started going by the other fabric stores.
One day I bounced him up in Arima
and he called me inside to talk to him.
He told me my name was worth more
than money and the reason he was
giving me the fabric was because of
my name. He talked to me about my
Life Lesson Learned
“I learned a lot in life about prin-
ciples, how you treat people, about
business, and interacting with people.”
Elie started taking accounting class-
es, learning business management,
effective communications and ways
in which to motivate others.
“I started understanding clearly
that the more the business could run
without you, the more valuable it is
because if you have to be there for your
business to run, what you created was
a job for yourself and if you don’t work
you don’t get paid.”
Elie said he started to set targets for
himself and his business and hired
people who could help the business
grow so he could focus on designing
and getting fabric.
“I spent 18 years in Arima and felt
like I had outgrown the location and
needed to expand. I moved to Wood-
brook four years ago.”
Following the move to Woodbrook,
Elie opened a store at the Normandie,
another in St Lucia and another in St
His next store location, at Grand Ba-
zaar is expected to open later this year.
Fashion designer Ecliff Elie. PHOTOS: NICOLE DRAYTON
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