University of Georgia freshman starts business selling unique African products

  • Ramatulai Jagne, a first-generation college student from metro Atlanta, started Ramla Apparel, during her first year at UGA.
  • She saw a gap in the marketplace and dove in headfirst.
By Sara Freeland

Most University of Georgia students spend the first semester of their freshman yearadjusting to campus and studying for exams.

But after Ramatulai Jagne finished her homework, she worked on launching her business, Ramla Apparel.

The online business sells protective hair bonnets from Gambia; shea butter and oil perfumes from Dubai; as well as wax print dresses, jewelry and accessories from a variety of places in West Africa like Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

It’s a blend of Gambian culture, African American culture and American culture, and many of the products are imported from Gambia.

“The idea is finding things that remind you of Africa in a way that’s accessible,” she said. “That’s our slogan: Bringing the motherland to your doorstep.”

Jagne, a first-generation college student from metro Atlanta, runs the business with her mom, Lala Jobe, who emigrated from Gambia in the 1990s.

When the website launched in January, the hand-woven fans sold out in two days. Their signature product— the wax printed bonnet, lined in satin—sold out the fastest.

Designed to protect ethnic hair from breaking and keep in moisture, the bonnets are a rarity at their price point, Jagne said. “We can’t really have a large stock of each bonnet because the fabric is so unique. They’re all very novel, and we have new ones coming in all the time.”

Now or never

The idea for the business was years in the making. Jagne and her mother had been talking about starting a business for a while, and while on a road trip last summer they decided it was now or never.

“We can’t just keep talking about it,” she said. “If we want something to happen, we have to take small deliberate steps.”

They saw a need in the market—a need to connect with African culture—and a gap in the market for an online marketplace for reasonably priced imported African goods, many handmade.

That day, they started doing their research. For Jagne, that meant learning how to build a website and learning the technical aspects of an online business.

It also meant getting a business license, naming the business and querying friends and family about what products they would want to purchase.