‘Black Panther’ Boom for Grove Hall business

Ebere Ihionu, owner of Elegance African Fashions, has been busy non-stop with the opening of the film Black Panther creating renewed interest in her traditional wares. Daniel Sheehan photo

Blockbuster film fuels sales for African-themed apparel store

Today marks a week since the premiere of Marvel’s superhero film “Black Panther,” the movie that has sparked a movement of black and African pride across the country and around the world. While Black Panther was breaking box office records in its opening weekend, one Dorchester business was seeing an healthy uptick in profits as well.

At Elegance African Fashions in Grove Hall, business is booming. Founder and owner Ebere Ihionu said orders began trickling in during the lead-up to the movie release last Thursday, and she has received dozens of orders in the last week alone.

“I’m super exhausted,” she said with a smile.

Ihionu, who is originally from Nigeria, came to Boston in 1996 and was soon presented with an opportunity to change jobs and pursue her passion for fashion design. She runs her business out of a small room walled with colorful stacks of textiles, sewing outfits, mainly for her church, her friends, and events such as weddings and banquets.

But in the last couple of weeks, her clientele has shifted to moviegoers eager to celebrate the movie with traditional African garb. Ihionu said she was ecstatic to be part of the movement.

“I’m all about fashion and trying to create African awareness,” she said. “We serve basically every ethnic group, and we have everybody’s style here...We can use our fashion to make a lot of statements.”

“Black Panther” makes some bold statements of its own, challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa in its depiction of Wakanda, a technologically advanced realm that imagines what Africa would look like had it not been colonized and exploited for its resources.

Ruth Carter, the head costume designer for “Black Panther,” drew from different African tribes and cultures to create a fashion sense for the fictional nation that reflected the diversity of the continent. As a fashion designer, Ihionu was most impressed.

“When you walk into the movie, you see different prints, people represented in different ways...Oh my god, they were so on point. It was beautiful.”
In addition to finally giving black moviegoers superheroes that look like them, the film has also put African fashion in the spotlight, across the country and internationally. Ihionu said that in anticipation of the premiere, she had a lot of people come to her to learn about their stylistic roots.

“When people come here, everybody’s asking me like, ‘How do I dress to make me look Ghanian? How do I dress to make me look Kenyan? How do I dress to make me look Nigerian? Is this the culture? Is this the print I’m trying to get?’ So you hear those questions and you’re like wow, this movie really brought a lot of interest.”

The multitude of orders flooding in has ranged from dresses to headscarves, pajamas to jewelry, and even three-piece suits. Whatever the request, Ihionu is happy to oblige and provide her customers, as she put it, “anything that brings them home.”

“My goal here is to make sure they walk out of here happy, being fulfilled that they’re going to the movie to represent something they believe in,” she said.

Dorchester residents were out in force to see “Black Panther” this past weekend, with screenings at the new AMC South Bay Center either packed or sold out.

The film has already received widespread acclaim and rave reviews from critics and fans alike, including Ihionu herself, who can’t get enough. “I’m going again!” she said.