With $80, an iPhone and a strong desire to bring African goods to e-commerce, Whitney Osei-Akintaju founded Ethnic District in 2016.
Offering fashion, art, home, beauty and grocery products from around the world, Ethnic District makes global shopping easy. No longer do you have to book a flight to another country to discover its national treasures.
Whitney’s desire to make African goods accessible online was sparked when she moved back to Ghana in 2015 after living stateside for 20 years. There, she discovered a challenging economic environment for entrepreneurs. She also discovered Dudu Osun Black Soup, her favorite (hint: goodbye acne, blemishes and dry skin). But that’s an aside.
“It was hard getting adjusted,” Whitney said. “There aren’t a lot of jobs for young adults in Ghana, so most people ‘hustle’ to make ends meet.” She felt these struggles firsthand and thus made it her mission to empower artisans worldwide to grow their business with the tools needed to compete in e-commerce.
During its early stages, Ethnic District, formerly known as WO Marketplace, was more of a hobby for Whitney. It originally only offered products made in Africa but has since expanded to offer items from designers and merchants worldwide through a bright, cheery and easy-to-navigate website with boldly colored photos.
The ornate jewelry drew my eye immediately. You just can’t find this stuff in an American mall. How cool to be able to say your necklace was made in Africa? I’ve already added the “Pendo Necklace” to my holiday gift list.
While she treasures all items on her website, Whitney pointed out a few bestsellers – the biggest of which is chocolate. No surprise there. The love for chocolate transcends nations.
GoldenTree Kingsbite milk chocolate is designed to “melt delightfully in your mouth with a smooth release of all the rich goodness of cocoa and milk.” The chocolate is made in Ghana, which is the second-largest producer of cocoa in the world.
Another bestseller, the Asanka Bowl, or Ghanaian grinding pot, is used for blending and cooking. The bowl comes in two different sizes made of clay, and also a metal version. Commonly used to grind and crush ingredients, the bowl takes a few days to make by hand and is accompanied by a small wooden masher.
Clothing and accessories also top the list of bestsellers. There’s an array of brightly patterned, flattering clothing to peruse, from form-fitting dresses and flowy tops for women, to T-shirts for men bearing a printed image of Africa. African clothes are custom-made, which can make translating into the U.S. 2, 4, 6, etc. size scale tricky. If you don’t want to worry about sizing, there are an array of vibrant purses and bags to browse through.
With such a wide variety of products offered, running Ethnic District does not come without challenges. Whitney maintains the marketplace with a full-time job and a baby, but she is still determined to continue Ethnic District’s mission and has plans to expand in the future.
She hopes to grow her current seller count of 25 by spreading across South America and Asia. Longer term, her goal is to open a flagship store with a concept similar to WeWork tailored for retail. Flexible and affordable, the store would give online sellers access to brick-and-mortar retail they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Travel is more than just booking a flight to an exotic land for a week. It’s about immersing yourself in other cultures through food, clothing and tradition. Take yourself to Africa and other parts of the world with a visit to Ethnic District. Your purchase may just inspire your next trip.