In 2018, fans’ anticipation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther was palpable, causing the movie to open to the tune of $202 million at the box office and went on to secure $1.4 billion globally, earning the title of “the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time.”
For the second iteration of the Black Panther franchise, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the film pulled in $800 million worldwide, earning an additional $5 million from the Christmas holiday three-day weekend and approximately $3 million at the beginning of the following week, according to Forbes.
With writer-director Ryan Coogler at the helm of the production coupled with a stellar cast and crew, together they all have brought African aesthetics to the mainstream, helping to surge the interest and purchases of African-inspired fashions.
Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for both films, drew inspiration from different African nations and tribal groups to invent the various Afrofuturistic ensembles for characters of the action-packed motion picture. Carter and her team crafted clothing for the Dora Milaje influenced by the Maasai people’s traditional dress that included spears, necklace rings, and metal bangles. For Queen Mother Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, her headdress drew on the innovation of the Zulu culture. Daniel Kaluuya‘s character W’Kabi who Carter draped in a unique blanket known as Basotho blankets, borrowed from the people of Lesotho.
The retail industry of sub-Saharan Africa has an approximate worth of U.S. $31 billion, based on a report from Euromonitor International, according to The Exchange.
Sophia Danner-Okotie, founder and designer of Besida, is taking advantage of the wave of support for African fashions. She recently released a collection as part of Stitch Fix’s Elevate grant and mentorship program. Danner-Okotie saw a significant increase in sales for her ethically made, Nigerian-inspired styles that grew 60% from the popularity of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Danner-Okotie also witnessed a similar boost in business when the first Black Panther film debuted in 2018, noting a 40% climb in online sales.
The Stitch Fix’s Elevate program provides a platform for Black entrepreneurs like Danner-Okotie by equipping her with monetary support, data, mentorship resources, and the opportunity to acquire new customers by selling her designs, her latest Elevate collection through Stitch Fix.
Yolanda Baruch: How did you become a part of Stitch Fix’s Elevate grant and mentorship program?
Sophia Danner-Okotie: I applied for the program in October 2021. After being selected as a finalist, I went through a second round of submissions and an interview with Stitch Fix’s Elevate team.
Baruch: Can you explain or give examples of how Stitch Fix’s Elevate program helped you with monetary support, data, and mentorship resources?
Danner-Okotie: I received a $25,000 grant, and mentorship from Stitch Fix to help grow my business. Through Elevate, I could also access resources, data insights, and art and science approach to help bring collections to Stitch Fix’s clients and expand offerings on Besida.
Baruch: Sales for your Nigerian-inspired styles have grown nearly 60% as due to the popularity of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. How important is it for you that members of the African diaspora connect with their African roots?
Danner-Okotie: A powerful transformation internally occurs when people connect with their roots. This connection builds self-confidence, a clearer sense of direction, and a more profound sense of pride. When a woman wears Besida, she will have an elevated sense of self, learn more about her roots, and ultimately plan a visit to an African country. In fact, Besida extended our commitment to this cause by sponsoring an all-expense paid trip to Ghana [this past] December for one Black woman.
Baruch: Has the movie helped showcase that African fashion is a lucrative sector?
Danner-Okotie: We saw a spike in online sales of about 40% during the release of the first Black Panther film. The public was excited and supportive of the film and wanted to wear their most fabulous African-inspired styles. Additionally, we have seen our sales grow by nearly 60% (October 17-October 31st.) We saw an increase in rush orders going to California and messages from customers who wanted something to wear to the premier on October 26th in L.A. Seeing this surge of interest proved there was a market for African-inspired fashion.
Baruch: How are you educating consumers about the significance of African clothing, for example, the meaning of the colors and designs?
Danner-Okotie: We spend more time educating our consumers on how we make our clothes and our commitment to making them in Africa. We’ve found that our ladies are more invested in learning about the impact we’re creating.
Baruch: Can you speak about how your fashion line has aided job creation here in the United States and your homeland of Nigeria?
Danner-Okotie: As a result of the Elevate program, I was able to use the grant funds to grow my team by 4x. Along with expanding my team, the grant money allowed us to buy more equipment to boost production at our in-house workshop in Nigeria. The country has a massive pool of well-trained tailors but needs more quality jobs. This grant allowed us to hire 13 more team members at Besida’s workshop. We went from a team of five at the beginning of the year to a troupe of 18 today.
Baruch: Do you intend to open manufacturing factories in Africa and throughout the diaspora?
Danner-Okotie: We currently create all of Besida’s garments in my birthplace, Benin, Nigeria. In the future, I plan on partnering with other manufacturers on the continent.
Baruch: Will your line expand into footwear and other accessories?
Danner-Okotie: I experimented with footwear in the past, but I discontinued the line due to production restraints. We are expanding into home accents, so you can look forward to Besida in your living room soon.
Baruch: How will you overcome challenges like protecting your intellectual rights and the stream of imported imitation clothing from China, Turkey, Europe, and the U.S.?
Danner-Okotie: Besida has a trademark for apparel, accessories, and home accents. We plan on protecting our name and image, but I’m not concerned with imitators. Our customers shop with us because they value what, why, and how we create. They understand that Besida is more significant than a clothing brand. Besida is a movement and an opportunity to wear clothing made by the original creators.
Baruch: In what ways would you like people to support African fashion designers?
Danner-Okotie: Buy the product, share our brand story, and bring friends/family to our pop-up experiences.
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