By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Ebong Eka had a problem. At 6-foot-5 and 220 or so pounds, he had difficulty finding "clothes that fit me in the way I wanted them to fit." So he decided to start custom-ordering his clothing. Now he's in business to provide similar options for other men.
Ebong, 34, was born and raised in Canada and came to the United States to attend college and play basketball. He spent a few years playing basketball professionally in Europe before returning to this country to work as an accountant. He moved to the Washington area in 2003 and is an acccountant with the Resnick Group in Tysons Corner.
Ebong began taking clothes seriously when he was in college. "I started noticing people started treating me differently. It reinforced in me the importance of perception," he says. "So I started dressing up on a regular basis. I feel personally I work better, I work more diligently, when I'm dressed a certain way, and that's a perception I give off." When a person is wearing a stylish, good-quality, well-fitting outfit, "you have more pep in your step, you feel more confident, you're happier; so why not feel that way every day?"
Ebong was introduced to a tailor from Thailand and started ordering custom suits and shirts. "People always kept asking me, 'Where'd you get your clothes from?' " When he made Washingtonian magazine's best-dressed list in 2007 (he was also featured in The Post's "Tastemaker" column in 2008), he thought, "Maybe I should consider taking this thing a little more seriously."
Ebong launched his made-to-measure clothing line, Mi Chiamo Eka (Italian for "My Name Is Eka") at a charity fundraiser/fashion show last August. Start-up costs for his Web site and clothing for the fashion show were $15,000 to $20,000, which he is close to earning back. His profit per item is anywhere from 20 to 40 percent.
Ebong runs the business around his accounting job, usually meeting clients at their office to take measurements and help them pick fabrics; he uses three manufacturers based in Asia. Suits run from $700 to $1,500; shirts up to $180. Turnaround time is two to six weeks. Ebong says his designs are influenced by Italian workmanship and harken to the couture of the '60s and '70s. He likes sleek jackets; flat-front, tapered pants; and skinny ties.
The image he wants to portray and encourage? "A trendy professional person who is conscious of their appearance and understands that physical perception is important -- it's not the only thing; but it's important."
This fall, Ebong plans to come out with a more affordable line of shirts, ties and pocket squares named simply Ebong Eka; the shirts will sell for $60 to $70. He also blogs on fashion and personal branding, and appears on the Internet talk show "The District Dish," where he tries to encourage Washingtonians to become more stylish. He insists that fashion doesn't have to be expensive and that comfortable doesn't have to equate to baggy. "The biggest thing is knowing what your style is, knowing how you want to be perceived, and then taking the time to find outlets that can provide that for you."
One of Ebong's clients has been Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, for whom he made a suit for a celebrity charity event. "People thought he had lost weight, and he hadn't," Ebong recalls. "It was only because the suit fit."