An entire world of culture can be found in one of Buffalo’s most exciting retail spaces: Black Monarchy. Founded and run by Phylicia Dove, this shop in Five Points has emerged as a force of not only fashion, but cultural celebration and advocacy.
Black Monarchy is an artisan and fashion boutique that specializes in custom garments from all over the globe. Each article of clothing and piece of jewelry is authentic to its country of origin or culture; roughly eight countries in Africa are represented, including Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, and Ethiopia. Places such as India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Thailand are also present among the store’s myriad fabrics.
Dove describes the Black Monarchy’s eclectic mix as a “cultural explosion.”
“The pieces, although they seem different, are a lot alike in their architectural design,” she said.
Dove sees the cohesiveness of different African cultures everywhere in her boutique. She uses a purse from Lagos, Nigeria, and a clutch from Ghana, which are remarkably similar in design, as an example. For Dove, this proves Black Monarchy’s mission: “origin of one.”
Black Monarchy’s celebration of culture and symbolism is no accident, but instead is built into its DNA.
“Because we live in a very xenophobic, sometimes racially insensitive climate, Black Monarchy kind of takes all of that into consideration and spits out more culture, and more fabric, and different meanings,” said Dove.
Dove chose the medium of fashion to combat social justice issues and to better represent the community.
"This is what the world looks like,” she said. “It looks like color, it looks like diversity, it looks like immigrants. But it all comes and shapes what America is.”
The inspiration for launching Black Monarchy came after years of advocacy and nonprofit work. Dove attended Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva for her undergraduate degree, and later moved to Buffalo to attain her master’s degree from Daemen College. At both institutions, Dove took on the role of social justice ally. But it was really fashion that became her niche.
“My passion, the thing that makes me breathe, has always been fashion,” said Dove. “It’s a form or medium in which we can all agree on. It takes away stigmas; it takes away the abrasiveness when we have these types of conversations.”
Dove was drawn to the area after meeting her husband (a Buffalo native) during college and spending a summer completing an internship in the city.
“I’m from Brooklyn, which is very high paced and fast moving,” she said. “And Buffalo was a good medium between New York City and Geneva.”
She also loved the visible transformation she witnessed happening in Buffalo, and the groundwork being done by various nonprofit organizations.
“It was a city that was growing, and I wanted to be a part of that growth.”
Dove started out as a vendor, showcasing her work at festivals with pieces she crafted on her own. She began making jewelry after visiting and falling in love with South Africa over a seven-month period during her undergraduate career.
Dove says her mother always taught her about her cultural heritage and ancestors, and her trip to Africa cemented her desire to communicate through cultural fashion. Thus, Black Monarchy was born.
After gaining an enthusiastic customer base, Dove finally found a storefront in Buffalo’s Five Points neighborhood. Black Monarchy applied to 43North’s “The Pitch” and won the competition, earning $25,000 in prizes.
One of the businesses’ greatest triumphs has been its ability to bring people together and expose others to new cultures. Dove recounted the time two women met while shopping in Black Monarchy. After talking for a moment, they realized they were not only from the same country in Africa, but from the same exact tribe.
As Dove said, this moment further shows why Black Monarchy “is a necessary space for those type of conversations and interactions to happen.”
Despite having incredible support, resources, and mentors, Dove has faced some of the same challenges as other small businesses. Namely, the difficulty of competing with bigger retail stores and chains, especially during busy seasons. Still, it’s Black Monarchy’s authenticity that she believes sets it apart.
“What I find is that if you’re true to your brand and what you actually carry, and try to listen to your customers, and stay in your niche and promote it well,” she explained, “it combats any competition you may feel outside of your actual space.”
After being open for only a year, Black Monarchy has been awarded over $50,000 in grants, built community rapport and relationships, and has started hiring locally. It has also wrapped up the year by adding 400 sq. feet to its space.
The expansion has enabled Black Monarchy to introduced a men’s section, all-natural skincare products, and Monarchy Market, where local artisans can sell their work in an official retail capacity. These endeavors align with Dove’s dedication to representing different cultures and selling items that serve people in the neighborhood. She wants to continue to grow and plans to hold events, showcase artist’s work, and support local schools and programs in order to do so.
Ultimately, she says, she “would love to be one of the leading cultural artisan boutiques in Western New York.”
With all that Black Monarchy has accomplished in such a short time, this goal is certainly not far from reach.