Check out These Awesomely Creative Black-Owned Businesses
MELODRAMA’s “fashion ministry” has only grown stronger during the pandemic.
For nearly two decades Jackie Adams has provided women in Houston a “fashion ministry” to create, support, and come together in the community at MELODRAMA Boutique.
Located on Almeda Road in historic Third Ward, MELODRAMA boutique offers a modern mix of stylish classic and contemporary threads for the Houstonian about town. From a cozy Sunday brunch in the Heights to a night at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, your style is guaranteed to turn heads, and that’s always been the point of the shop. “I think most women are looking for something special and unique when they come to me,” says owner Jackie Adams.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Adams developed a love of fashion and style from an early age watching her grandmother get ready for church, and she loved how deliberately her grandmother would dress herself. It wasn’t just about looking good: Her grandmother chose clothes that ensured she would be noticed when she walked out the front door and headed to the weekly service. “I remember growing up as a child in Detroit watching her. Sunday, going to church was a big day, and she would get all dressed up and put on her red lipstick,” says Adams.
After graduating from college, Adams started working on the side as a freelance stylist, coordinating fashion shows, training models, and doing wardrobe styling on music videos for Houston’s Rap-A-Lot record label. But she loved clothes and never could shake the feeling that helping people be their best selves through fashion and style was what she was meant to do. She finally opened MELODRAMA in 2002, and soon developed a loyal clientele, drawn there by her array of clothing, a good mix of local designers, and the latest styles. On top of that she was dedicated to supporting women well before it was cool.
“When I was in my business and I talked to women, I realized that a lot of women don’t know what their purpose is. So my journey with fashion was not just to make people look great, but also to allow them to think about purpose and getting into their life,” says Adams. “That’s an empowering thing once you start talking to women about what they are doing, their talents and what they are capable of. How you can be so much more and your brand and look—it all comes into play.”
While the pandemic has changed a lot of how Adams is operating her business—the boutique now has more limited hours, an updated website for online clients, and rigorous store-sanitizing procedures—it hasn’t shaken her drive. She’s found ways to offer her customers the same level of service whether they want to come into the store for a one-on-one shopping trip, pick up a new piece curbside or in the store, or order online entirely. And she’s seen her efforts repaid with people who have made a point of buying from her during this difficult year. “Clients don’t forget about you,” says Adams. “That type of relationship with people kind of keeps you going.” melodramaboutique.com
Mod Chic? More Like Mod Goals
A store where you dress to impress yourself, first.
When Ebele Iloanya first moved to Sugar Land from Scotland in 2008, she struggled to find affordable clothes that fit. American fashion was looser and less structured than what she was used to in the UK. So she decided to make her own clothes.
Iloanya went to sewing school for a month, then spent a summer working at GM Custom Clothier, a local tailor shop. As she practiced making clothes, adding her own style to the patterns, the shop’s owner told her, “You’re a designer, you’re not just a seamstress.”
That, Iloanya says, was her “aha moment.” In 2009 she launched her own fashion line, ModChic Couture. For a while she worked out of a studio, but it was hard for her customers to find her. So in 2016 she opened her first ModChic boutique, in Rice Village, and three years later, in June 2019, she moved the store to Sugar Land, closer to where she lives with her family.
Although she sells other local and international brands, Iloanya is still creating her own new pieces under the label ModChic Signature. Her designs are influenced by her international life—she was born in Brussels and grew up in Nigeria before moving to the UK and later Texas. Iloanya says she loves to pull from all of these influences—the casual American chic look, proper UK fashion, and the flair and color of her African heritage—to come up with clothes that allow the wearer to be her full self. She wants people to feel good, essentially.
Iloanya’s overarching goal is to turn ModChic into a global brand that empowers women through fashion, because she believes you feel good when you’re dressed well. After all, that’s why she started sewing. “It was just, for me, making clothes for me,” she says. “To feel good, to look good, and to feel better.” modchiccouture.com
Mix It Up
Create your own scented scene at Love & Make.
Stepping into Love & Make is like walking into a confectionery crossed with a laboratory. But, instead of rows of candy, you’re greeted with over 60 different scents. And instead of stirring chemicals in beakers, you’re mixing waxes and fragrances together to make your own candles, bath bombs, and soaps.
Workshop co-owner Amara Aigbedion says she’s always been crafty, hosting candle-making parties for her friends. In 2017 she teamed up with her sister-in-law Bukola Aigbedion, and the pair began holding pop-up crafting workshops. A year later, in October 2018, they opened their first storefront in Rice Village.
During the workshops, the staff takes time to explain the science behind the craft. “It’s very hands on,” Amara Aigbedion says. “We don’t just tell you what to do; we teach you about the ingredients.” Attendees learn about the difference between essential and base oils, as well as fragrance mixing as you pick out your favorite scents. Bukola Aigbedion says the fragrance selection often is the longest part of any workshop. “It’s like a candy store,” she jokes, as clients sniff whiffs of all their options.
In addition to in-person classes, which are held on weekday evenings and weekends—both Aigbedions have other, full-time jobs—Love & Make offers take-home kits, virtual DIY classes, and mobile workshops. They also will bring in local makers to teach folks how to make other crafts, like jewelry and macramé.
Regardless of the class, Amara Aigbedion says all their workshops are laid-back. People joke around, munch on snacks, plus it’s BYOB. “Our mission is to bring people together,” she says, “and learn something new.” loveandmake.com
More Than a Mask
Lloyd Gite is showing Houston the diversity of African art.
When Lloyd Gite traveled throughout Sub-Saharan Africa after finishing undergrad, bringing home several unique art pieces for family and friends, the experience stayed with him. Twenty-five years later, he opened Gite Gallery, the only gallery in Houston that sells exclusively African art, inside a charming house in the city’s historic Third Ward. “When people think of African art, they usually think of masks and things like that,” says Gite. “However, we sell fine art from artists all over West and South Africa, and there is incredible diversity in those pieces.”
Gite himself fell in love with Africa at an early age, taking a deep interest as a child in the continent and its history. Later he was able to travel there several times during his long career as a TV journalist, when he witnessed the richness of talent among African artists. “The colors are so vibrant and brilliant, and they can really set your home on a new trajectory,” says Gite. “Every time I would go, friends and family asked me to keep bringing things back. When it was time for me to transition out of television, I knew what I wanted to do.”
Though many of the artists the gallery features are well-known around the globe, African art is still picking up steam in the U.S. and is particularly gaining popularity in H-town. “People in Europe are really familiar with many of these artists, but not so much in the U.S. My prediction is that Nigeria will be the next international art scene; there is so much talent there,” says Gite. “Houston is fertile ground because this has become a cultural city, and there’s a growing clientele.”
Gite attributes much of this success to social media but notes the pandemic has been surprisingly instrumental in growing the gallery’s clientele. “Tons of people are spending more time at home with naked walls and deciding, ‘Okay, I need to do something about this,’” says Gite. “Psychologists will tell you colors can make a profound impact on your mood, and the vibrancy of our pieces can transform a space.”
Still, Covid-19 has presented roadblocks for the gallery, as it has had to transition several events online, such as its weekly happy hours on the first Friday of every month. “Right now we’re having a virtual happy hour, in which DJ Alchemy plays music as we move around the gallery, and every 15 minutes I talk about one of our art pieces,” he says. “It’s not ideal, but we’re making it work.”
Gite continues to stay in contact with talented creators across Africa and is excited to continue sharing their work with Houston. “I love seeing the joy art can bring to other people,” says Gite. “I feel like I’m living my second life.” thegitegallery.com
Third Ward TLC at T&C
In just over a year, T&C Beauty Supply store has developed a steadfast following.
When Mychelle Cooper, her husband, Christopher, and her brother Darrell Turner first opened the doors to T&C Beauty Supply in September 2019, they were simply excited to be launching this family business they’d dreamed up. But the trio soon realized they’d established a community pillar, practically overnight.
In the beginning the goal was simple: to raise enough money between T&C and their neighboring project, OST Liquor, to open a bar in the neighborhood near their alma mater, Texas Southern University. The location they picked ended up being key—T&C is now the only Black-owned beauty supply outpost within the 610 Loop—and the store soon garnered a steady clientele. “There are a lot of things happening right now in Third Ward. The spot made sense, but how impactful it has been to the neighborhood—I would have never imagined that it meant so much to the Black community,” Mychelle Cooper says.
In the year since it opened, T&C has become known as a place where the employees have solid, first-hand knowledge of just about everything in the store’s massive inventory (you can spot Mychelle testing the products over on T&C’s Instagram page), for its steadfast support for Black-owned makers, and for the owners’ focus on products designed specifically for people in the Black community. While some retail outlets only have a section offering a few products for Black hair, T&C is home to more than 500 wigs, hair extensions, and hair care products for Black men and women. The owners also make sure you feel at home when you walk in the door, no matter who you are. “The music is on, we have posters, we are talking, and we do sponsorships. We are trying to give back,” Cooper says.
The result is intense customer loyalty. When beauty shops were deemed non-essential businesses in March, Cooper and the team simply started taking drive-up orders from their loyal customers, and they were as busy as ever running things out for curbside pickup. “We kind of looked like Sonic out here,” she laughs.
Shortly after reopening in May, the team was driven to engage on an even more intimate level—advocating for Black Lives Matter on social media, encouraging their followers to build the black dollar, and passing out roses in Third Ward on the day of George Floyd’s memorial service. Now, they are happy to see those inside and outside Third Ward support their business, but Cooper notes that the “Buy Black” movement that sprang up in the wake of the summer marches and protests needs to be more than a passing fad. “Try to make an effort to consistently buy Black,” she says. “Make it a lifestyle, not a trend.” tandcbeautysupply.com
—Laura Furr Mericas