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Amid 'Black Panther' Craze, African Clothing Retailers Marvel At Sales Boost04:45
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Ebby Ihionu sews a pleated dance skirt at Elegance African Fashions in Dorchester. She's run the store for 11 years and has seen an increase in business since the movie Black Panther came out. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Ebby Ihionu sews a pleated dance skirt at Elegance African Fashions in Dorchester. She's run the store for 11 years and has seen an increase in business since the movie Black Panther came out. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

"Black Panther" has smashed records at the box office. It’s now the highest grossing superhero movie ever in the United States.

It has also sparked a boom in African clothing.

But can the buzz last? Some local businesses hope so

Businesses like Elegance African Fashions, a small shop tucked away on a residential street in Dorchester.

Owner Ebby Ihionu welcomes a new customer on a recent Friday, asking him how he's doing with a smile.

"Very good, thank you," Jean-Sebastien Duvilaire, 32, of Framingham, responds. Stepping further into the shop, Duvilaire's eyes light up.

"This is beautiful. When you come in, this is like Africa," he says.

"That’s right. That’s right. Thank you!" Ihionu says.

Duvilaire is a dancer and choreographer. And he’s been thinking a lot about Africa ever since he saw the movie "Black Panther."

"The clothes, the spirituality, the food, the songs, the art --  it definitely made me think of African [and] Pan-Africanism in a certain way," Duvilaire says.

So when he needed an outfit for an event, he did a quick online search for stores that specialize in African attire and found Elegance African Fashions.

There are handmade clothes and jewelry on display, and the store is lined floor to ceiling with vibrant African fabrics — from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries.

Ihionu shows Duvilaire several different outfits. He tries on a few and ends up with two embroidered white shirts and a pair of pants.

"I think this was made for me," he says with a laugh as he checks himself out in a mirror.

Duvilaire is one of many new customers who have come through the doors of Elegance African Fashions since "Black Panther" opened in theaters.

Ebby Ihionu, right, and her sister Ifeyinwa Okolie work on custom clothes made with African fabrics at Elegance African Fashions in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ebby Ihionu, right, and her sister Ifeyinwa Okolie work on custom clothes made with African fabrics at Elegance African Fashions in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ihionu says these new customers are from all different backgrounds. And her regular customers are buying more since the movie.

"It's been super," she says. "Usually during winter, the business is slow, but it has been like up, up, up. You know, people come every day."

Ihionu is originally from Nigeria and has run this business out of the basement of her home for 11 years. And for the first time, she ran out of some items.

"I ran out of dashikis. I ran out. I had to go, and you know, start making more," she explains.

The colorful printed dress shirts usually sell in the summer. And Ihionu isn’t slowing down. She’s already booked up with orders for custom-made clothes for the next two months. It's all because of the bump from "Black Panther."

"I ran out of dashikis. I ran out. I had to go, and you know, start making more."

Ebby Ihionu, owner of Elegance African Fashions

But the question for shop owners like Ihionu is, how do they keep this buying excitement going once the movie hype wanes?

Diane Basemera runs an online marketplace called Amooti, where African artisans sell their goods. She grew up in Uganda and now wants to blog on her site to show people how to wear and style African clothes.

"I think that with that education that should help sustain the high traffic that I got on the website," Basemera says. "So, that's my plan so far, and I hope there'll be another 'Black Panther.' So we have another big bang."

Basemera, 30, started her business two years ago with the goal of being an "Amazon" for African products. Sales on her website have tripled since the movie came out. One artisan on her site even created a line of hoodies inspired by "Black Panther" for spring.

Diane Basemera started Amooti in 2016. "I wanted to have the whole Amazon experience but with African products," she says as she works out of Hub Boston Coworking Space for Startups in Downtown Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Diane Basemera started Amooti in 2016. "I wanted to have the whole Amazon experience but with African products," she says as she works out of Hub Boston Coworking Space for Startups in Downtown Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With the film making more than $1 billion in box office sales worldwide, "Black Panther" merchandise is expected to perform well this year. Even Hasbro has made more toys for the movie.

Some fashion experts already predict the film will give African designs even more influence in the fashion industry.

"This is a long-term trend," says Caroline Daniels, who runs the fashion entrepreneurial initiative at Babson College. "The number of people that are becoming fashion consumers is growing, is more diverse. They want more choice, and they want clothing that expresses individuality as well as diversity."

Daniels says businesses should engage their new customers, and beef up their websites and social media activity to keep the connections going beyond this "Black Panther" wave.

Ihionu, the store owner, is experimenting with her own styles to connect customers to the clothes. She’s coming up with new designs to put fun African prints on T-shirts, jeans, accessories and other western wear.

"We're not going to stop because 'Black Panther' slows down," Ihionu says. "We have to keep this. And I believe, when they put on whatever we make here and they feel good, they come for more."

But she’ll still keep stocking up on traditional clothes and old-standbys like the dashiki.

One of her regular customers Doreen Amartey, 31, of Roslindale, hurries into the store on that Friday to snap up some of the last dashikis for her young kids to wear when they finally see "Black Panther."

"Actually, I’m trying to surprise them," Amartey says, "but they keep [saying], 'Oh, mommy, we want to go see the movie. We want to go see the movie.' "

This image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows, from left, Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "Black Panther." (Courtesy Disney/Marvel Studios)
This image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows, from left, Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "Black Panther." (Courtesy Disney/Marvel Studios)
This image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "Black Panther." (Courtesy Disney/Marvel Studios)
This image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "Black Panther." (Courtesy Disney/Marvel Studios)
Danai Gurira speaks as the cast of “Black Panther” arrives at the South Africa premiere on Feb. 16 in Johannesburg. (Cara Anna/AP)
Danai Gurira speaks as the cast of “Black Panther” arrives at the South Africa premiere on Feb. 16 in Johannesburg. (Cara Anna/AP)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Ebby Ihionu's last name. We regret the error.

This segment aired on April 5, 2018.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter, covering a range of news. She also covers tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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