Elly’s Formal Wear & Bridals: The Passing of a Torch
An amazing story of how a daughter’s pursuit of her passion brings her full circle back to her own hometown.
Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor
Editor’s Note: This month, we begin a new column titled “Risk & Reward” focusing on businesses.in this age of social media, the announcement came via an emotional Facebook post. On November 14, 2018, a teary Terri Ewbank announced she had come home and was ready to continue the business that her mother, Elly Angel Ewbank, had started twenty-four years ago: Elly’s Formal Wear & Bridals.
Elly, who comes from a large family (nine siblings) and who reigned as the 1974 Miss Barrio Fiesta, graduated from Maui Community College in 1973 with a degree in Accounting (she wanted to be a CPA) but also studied Fashion Design. She worked at Woolworth’s Fabrics and Notions Department but quit when she went on a trip to the Philippines as Miss Barrio Fiesta.
she married Paul Ewbank in 1977, moved to the Big Island, went to work for City Bank on O‘ahu, and returned to Maui in 1982. After having two children, she started to do alterations at home. After a divorce in 1989, Elly started work at Jeans West and quit in 1994 to take the risk of opening her own business at the age of forty-one.
“I was working at home after I quit Jeans West and after my divorce. I was making prom dresses. It came to a point where I couldn’t handle. I needed a shop—not just a room—I needed help,” explained Elly.
The business became headquartered in Kīhei—first at 41 E. Līpoa Street for a couple of years and after two other locations, moved in 2009 to its present location at the Sugar Beach Resort on North Kīhei Road.
To Elly, the greatest challenge has always been the economy. “I think through perseverance and knowing how to juggle your money, we are still standing. I love the shop, the customers, the people. It’s so amazing to own your own business. When you wake up in the morning, I am happy to go to work,” she says.
The reward in owning one’s business is happy customers. “We see the bride so happy when she finds the dream wedding gown. They’re happy about the service, price, and the overall interaction with us. We want every bride to be happy,” says Elly.
In the early years, Elly would sew every wedding dress, taking about twenty-five to thirty hours, depending on how intricate the dress. After eight years, Elly stopped hand sewing the dresses. “It was easier to sell ready made dresses and alter them,” Elly explained. It also led to increasing the volume of their sales.
Employees are crucial to any business. “My employees are like family,” Elly explains. One employee has been with her for fifteen years, another employee has been with her for ten years, while the newest employee has been with her for six years.
Elly’s daughter Terri started at the shop when she was only nine years old—helping to clean shoes and steam shirts. During high school, Terri worked a lot—and often accompanied her Mom to trade shows on the mainland. But Terri was restless and moved to California and later to Nevada. “She was bored on Maui and having the shop wasn’t enough for her,” Elly said. “She wasn’t ready.” Elly admits she felt hurt when Terri left because she really needed her.
In April of 2018, Elly called Terri. “I told her I wanted to retire. During the prom season, I went to the Philippines and told Terri to come home and work.” And Terri was beginning to have a change of heart about taking over the business. “I told my Mom it’s so weird that this time, I felt something in me that I’m ready, I can do so much. I’m ready to take on the challenge,” explained Terri.
In July, Elly went on another long trip and Terri returned again. Terri didn’t call her Mom at all during the trip and handled all issues. Elly asked the employees how Terri did and they replied Terri did well. So when the sixty-five year old Elly returned from her trip, she announced she would retire soon. At one time, Elly thought about selling her business because Terri wasn’t ready yet. “I have no regrets. I trust her because she has a goal. She is more confident,” said Elly.
“My Mom was tired. She was telling me, ‘You either move home or I will sell the business,’” explained the thirty-six year old Terri. “When I shared with her where I wanted to take the business, she was scared. I had all these dreams so my Mom and I would butt heads. That’s why I moved to Los Angeles. But it made my Mom appreciate me when I was gone,” said Terri.
When Terri moved to Los Angeles in June 2013, Elly made a discovery. “She found my journals that contained my ideas and dreams. I left it behind by accident,” said Terri. “Mom called and said ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t realize you cared,’” Terri recalls. “She realized how much I loved the business.”
Terri credits her faith in God for where she is. “I’m very strong in my faith. Everything happens for a reason. God presented to me all the jobs in LA and Vegas for a reason,” said Terri. “God has prepared me for this moment. I learned the business side—inventories, corporate, etc. I think Mom is more confident in me. When she went to Europe, she gave me a test. I didn’t know it was a test—a lot of responsibilities but I learned a lot. I have so many plans for the business,” she said.
Terri notes that Maui has an average of forty-two weddings per day and the need for an upscale bridal shop will always be there. She has a three to five year plan to expand but Kīhei will always be the home spot because Kīhei was the foundation of the business. “I want to rebrand it. It will always be my Mom’s legacy,” she says. “We will be utilizing technology more; creating apps for the brides and grooms.” The shop will be expanded, creating more space, and having a modern look. “We want to have an elegant feeling when you walk in. And there will be champagne!” exclaims Terri.
“I want to implement my ideas with respect to my Mom’s legacy. I’m so grateful that whatever she did, she did it right,” says Terri. Terri’s daughter, Tatiana who is in high school, works at the store. But Terri’s ten year old son has shown a lot of interest in continuing his grandma’s legacy. “We had a family meeting and Mom asked what our plans were. Tatiana wants to go to college. Mom got emotional and asked Tatiana if she would take over the shop. Tatiana said ‘I don’t know.’ But my son said ‘I will take over the shop.’ I think he sees the passion in me and he’s always with me at the shop when he’s with me,” recalls Terri.
The repeat business is very important. “Our customers come back to find a dress for their daughter’s prom,” says Terri. “I’m really excited. My Mom is very supportive. And we have a lot of support from the community. I look back and we have made milestones of memories.”
Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation, non-profit corporations, and litigation. He has been practicing law for 35 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Idica.