Fashion designer Peter Elias is making a bold move in the middle of an economic meltdown and global health pandemic to open a new business. Given the daunting circumstances that the country faces in this COVID-19 period, he has had his doubts, but he has decided to go ahead with this venture. "I have second-guessed the decision a few times, but I remain focused and believe in what we offer, in my team and the many loyal clients we serve," he told the Sunday Guardian.
Elias, who has been in the fashion and beauty business for more than 33 years, admitted that he was hit hard with restrictions on malls and fewer customers, but is determined to continue fighting to stay in business. He said COVID or not they are constantly trying to innovate and recreate to remain relevant.
Tell us, Peter Elias, how long have you been involved in business in T&T, and in the beauty and fashion business in particular?
I’ve been in the fashion business for over 33 years. I spent 15 years in the Miss Trinidad and Tobago industry. We also create editorial content and style images for campaigns.
Would you say that your name speaks for itself in the business world and the beauty and fashion industry in particular?
I’ve been around a while and have been consistent, so it’s wonderful that many associate our name/brand with style, service and longevity.
In this time of a pandemic, where the world is struggling with COVID-19 and the economic fallout that it has brought, this a very bold and brave move to open a new business. What made you decide on this move and at the particular location?
We closed our Ellerslie location before COVID to expand at Long Circular Mall with the intention to house women, men and career wear. It is a challenging time and I have second-guessed the decision a few times, but I remain focused and believe in what we offer, in my team and the many loyal clients we serve. In this business like all others, it's all about location.
Do you see this as a seasonal move for Christmas to Carnival? What is the real concept behind this business?
I’ve never been in the seasonal business, although we have seasonal spikes. I am here to make clients feel confident and look beautiful and fortunately, it’s been good so far, at least before COVID.
Do you have an established customer base or do you hope to attract new clientele? Where do you expect your customer base to come from?
We’re fortunate in that we serve a wide array of clients from the length and breadth of T&T. I do see this location as bringing different traffic to that of my current and previous locations.
Will this move to open a new business see you produce and feature local items? Will this be a move to encourage people to buy local and support local artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs?
We produce our own collections and also stock a wide range at competitive pricing to satisfy our wide array of clients and their needs, keeping in mind that clients are exposed to social media and internet shopping and usually able to travel, so I need to compete with style and price points both local and internationally to please them.
Does market research suggest this sort of business is a viable one?
Clothing is an elastic demand item, plus it's a tough time in this economic climate. Because our brand is trusted, we’ve been able to carve a niche in this market, combining excellent choice, competitive pricing and unparalleled service, so I think we stand alone which makes us viable.
Would the very stringent measures put in place by the banking sector affect your business?
We are already affected by the stringent measures for a few years now, but this has forced us to stock even better, work even harder and sell our best.
What about the restrictions in place for COVID-19 and malls complaining about tenants closing businesses as fewer customers are coming out and people are buying less, do you have any concerns about this?
I’ve been affected. It’s been hard. I anticipate it’ll continue to be difficult for the coming months or year, but recognise it's a pandemic that had affected the world and it’s not just me. I live to fight another day and we shall continue forging ahead.
How do you think COVID-19 will impact on your new business; is this an opportunity to innovate, recreate?
COVID or not, we are constantly trying to innovate and recreate ourselves and remain relevant as this business is incredibly competitive. As you can appreciate, COVID has hit hard, but with the activity we feel positive about this new location.
Will you encourage others to open businesses at this time?
It really depends on the kind of business, the need, the relevance. This is a tough time for most businesses with a few exceptions, for example food and technology.
Have you been able to negotiate special rates for your business? How many people will be employed at your establishment? Will they be specialists or regular people on the job market?
It’s been difficult but we’ve been able to maintain our staff who are specially trained. One of the main reasons I felt compelled to move ahead with the Long Circular location is that they have been so encouraging and accommodating.
Have some of these people worked in your establishments before?
Although this may seem repetitive, having closed Ellerslie I already have trained staff.
How many spin-off jobs will your business be creating during this COVID pandemic where thousands are on the breadline?
It took a village literally to build out. My construction crew, contractors, maintenance crew…when you visit you would better appreciate.
I know that you have closed down your operations at Ellerslie Plaza which existed for decades, as well as a unit of your business in Westmall, what was the reason for this?
It was always the plan to close our Ellerslie store and move to a location with more foot traffic that’s larger and can house all that we offer under one roof. COVID hastened this at Westmall where we combined our three operations under one roof. The next step is to get a bigger, better-situated location there.
Do you believe enough is being done by the Government to stimulate economic activity and put incentives in place for businesses during this period?
One of the benefits of the Government keeping all employees during COVID is the domino effect it’s had on the entire economy, my business to a lesser degree as occasions are very limited due to restrictions.
What's your plan to make it through this period?
I believe in our people, our clients recognise and appreciate style, our industry is alive and kicking. Look at how our people dress for Carnival fetes for example. So in the long run, I see our value. We just have to make it through this.