“A little bit of ecstasy, a little bit of fantasy,” it was just another day in 1996 when these lyrics laid the foundation for a 22-year-old medicine student to start a revolution in the fashion industry of Bangladesh. Over the next decade, Tanjim Haque had established Ecstasy as arguably the biggest clothing brand in Bangladesh. However, one thing we are all guilty of, myself included is the fact that we are so impressed by his achievements that we often tend to overlook the man behind the visionary entrepreneur.
That’s exactly what I realised when I first entered his office. I didn’t see a man who single-handedly put Bangladesh’s fashion industry on the map, I noticed a die-hard U2 fan. I have read all about his success on newspapers and articles but I was introduced to the car enthusiast who had a Ford GT on his desk and the connoisseur of pop culture as evident by the terminator T800 head resting beside his car collection. I was in the presence of a great creative mind of our generation and yet he greeted me with the humblest of smiles and asked me to take a seat. Thus, began our rendezvous on the twelfth floor of his office.
Now, most people think that entrepreneurs are about all work and no play but that’s not the case with Tanjim though. When asked about how he maintains a balance between his business and personal life, he smiled and stated, “It’s not that difficult for me. When your work is based on your passion, you’ll never get tired or bored of it. Plus, I have always been someone who doesn’t compromise anything for work. I have other hobbies and passions so I like to give time to those as well.” Tanjim is an avid fan of music and travelling. “Travelling to New York to watch U2 live was one of the best experiences of my life. It was also something I had on my bucket list. I would also love to go and see the Northern lights someday, that is also on my list. See, I never shy away from trying new things, I never shy away from living my life,” he explains.
Tanjim treats every day like an adventure. Unlike most workaholics, his days do not have any specific routine. “Some days I work from 8 am in the morning till midnight and other days I sleep till 1 pm in the afternoon. There is no typical schedule for me, every day is a different adventure,” he adds. Being a person, who has never allowed the concept of ageing stop him from exploring new things, age to Tanjim is of little significance and as long as a person has the correct mind set, they can continue living and enjoying life for as long as they want. Tanjim has continued to add new things to his bucket list as the years have passed. I also got to learn of his life-long interest in cars and motorbikes. He is extremely passionate about collecting and restoring vintage automobile and his current project comprises of restoring old bikes. When it comes to music, Tanjim is an omnivore: be it jazz, rock or even heavy metal, he loves listening to anything and everything. His current go-to music is “Cigarette after sex,” the American pop-band from Texas.
This is one of the main reasons why bikes are such a recurring theme at Ecstasy outlet décor and ambience. This is also why products like jeans and leather jackets are a staple in Ecstasy outlets. When the subject of décor came up, our conversation slowly drifted to Tanjim’s vision of creating a space in Dhaka which can distract its people from all the hustle and bustle. “Dhaka is filled with negative energy. Be it the extreme heat and pollution or the fact that we have to endure unbearable traffic, there’s just too much negativity around. Each Ecstasy outlet is made in such a way that it can provide a portal for people to escape this negative energy. Whether it’s through our products or through the music and ambience.” On top of that, he wanted to create a space where people can come and browse freely. “Growing up, buying clothes used to be a very boring experience. We used to go to shops where they would have all the clothes stacked up inside a glass shelf. There was no joy,” he recalls. Tanjim wanted to change that and provide shoppers with a more wholesome experience. He successfully revolutionised the clothing industry and paved way for many brands who have thrived from Tanjim’s vision.
As someone who has experienced his adolescence life in the late 2000’s, I have witnessed Ecstasy’s meteoric rise to success and even in 2018, it is as relevant as ever. After getting to speak to Tanjim Haque, I realised the reason for this longevity. When someone is so charismatic and passionate about their work, coming up with new ideas is like child’s play. Tanjim further elaborated on this topic, “The two key components in my field are art and commerce. Too often, people only put emphasis on either art or commerce and this really damages the business in the long run. Prior to Ecstasy, people were only in it for the money. I wanted to change that. I wanted to give people quality products at a reasonable price”, Tanjim stated. Art comes naturally to him but the commerce side is slightly trickier. To have an easier time overseeing the operation of Ecstasy, Tanjim’s roles in his company consistently change from time to time. He states how he was the head of marketing last month and this month he is spearheading the creative core. This not only gives him a better grip but also allows him to absorb the inputs of others. Despite his pioneering status, Tanjim is always open to suggestions and believes that every person has the ability to offer something new and unique to his brand. Another thing, Tanjim is always open to is expanding and diversifying his range of products. Recently he launched an exciting line of fragrance for men named “Tanjim 1974” available in three selections titled Dare, Frost and Spike.
With its mammoth status, people automatically assume that Tanjim’s road to success was an easy one, in reality, though it was anything but easy. Our conversation took a rather serious turn when Tanjim started explaining that he was a student of medicine and that is what his family wanted him to do, “Obviously my parents were a bit sceptical about my choices and hence I did not receive much support in the beginning,” he recalls. He wanted to develop Bangladesh’s own brand but he did not have much idea about the kind of capital required. This caused his initial attempt to start Ecstasy in the late 90’s to be an unsuccessful one. But he was not ready to give up on his dream. Tanjim began to outsource different labelled goods for Ecstasy (which is why it is a multiple brand outlet), then finally in 2006 he launched a label under his own name and the rest, as they say, is history. After this, Tanjim took a brief pause and our conversation transitioned back to a warmer tone. With a look of fondness and gratefulness in his eye, Tanjim began explaining to me how all of this would not have been possible without his wife. He added, “My wife, my life partner was always by my side as my business partner and we did everything together from day one.” Behind every successful man is a great woman. Tanjim Haque and his wife rose to the top of the clothing & apparel industry of Bangladesh.
However, even after achieving all the success in the world, Tanjim still faces various challenges. “First and foremost, we get little or no support from the government. You go to any prime location in the city and you’ll see that it is filled with banks, banks, and more banks. The fashion industry gets no aesthetic privileges. In addition to that, we do not have any regulatory bodies to support us as a result of which landlords get to abuse their powers and increase rent at unreasonable rates. A more recent challenge I face is from the seasonal entrepreneurs who set up shop during the festive seasons. We work hard throughout the year to come up with newer and innovative creations which are gravely hampered by this temporary increase in competition,” he adds. He believes that the fashion industry needs more support and that we need fashion schools. Even a ministry perhaps. If UAE can have a ministry of state for happiness, why can’t we have a ministry of fashion?
But Tanjim also had heaps of praise for the growth the fashion industry has achieved over the year. He believes that we have even more scope to grow, Tanjim further elaborates, “We have moved on from more traditional clothing and have adopted the western style, and even integrating them to our traditional wear. We have even more potential for global adaptation.” Tanjim is now seeking to expand his operation globally. Although he chose to not elaborate further on this matter, he assures us that we would learn more about it soon. We concluded our conversation here and as I was getting out of his office, I realised the difference between an ordinary conversation and a truly enlightening one. Tanjim Haque simply radiates creativity that wears on any individual surrounding him. I now know how Ecstasy continues to reach newer heights of success. It is because of the charismatic enigma who pulls all the string behind the scenes.