Apr 11 • 3 min read
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Hannah Obeng, left, and Fox MBA candidate Olawunmi Thomas-Quarcoo co-founded Ka Bom Designs, a fashion retain venture that incorporates African designs. (Courtesy Olawunmi Thomas-Quarcoo)

Hannah Obeng, left, and Fox MBA candidate Olawunmi Thomas-Quarcoo co-founded Ka Bom Designs, a fashion retain venture that incorporates African designs. (Courtesy Olawunmi Thomas-Quarcoo)

For Olawunmi Thomas-Quarcoo, pursuing an MBA was the first step in fulfilling her dream of becoming a social entrepreneur.

Thomas-Quarcoo, a first-year MBA candidate at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, is the co-founder of Ka Bom Designs, a fashion retail venture integrating African designs into the western market with a focus on empowering African artisans.

“While growing up, we had difficulty identifying with one specific culture, as both our American and African influences played a role in our self-definition,” said Thomas-Quarcoo, of the upbringings of she and her business partner Hannah Obeng. “We wanted to bring the two communities together.”

Thomas-Quarcoo, 30, and Obeng, 28, met in 2011 as social workers for Philadelphia Fight, a community health services organization and HIV/AIDS advocate. Through their background in helping others, they knew their entrepreneurial venture had to be rooted in uplifting their community.

“We love western styles, but they don’t always represent us,” said Obeng, a licensed therapist.

Thomas-Quarcoo, a native of Nigeria, and Obeng, whose origins are in Ghana, said stigmas about African poverty and underdevelopment had led the fashion industry to ostracize their cultures. To remedy this problem, Thomas-Quarcoo and Obeng launched Ka Bom Designs in 2014 as both a platform for African artisans to share their creations and a way to build a coalition of female entrepreneurs.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Thomas-Quarcoo said. “With Ka Bom Designs, I was connecting to my roots while also giving back.”

Thomas-Quarcoo found inspiration in her Strategy, Marketing and Social Entrepreneurship course at the Fox School, which helped her understand the importance of competitor analysis, barriers to entering the market, market sizing, and sustainability. Applying that knowledge to Ka Bom Designs provided the foundation for the company’s business model and strategy.

In 2015, the business partners took their venture to the Blackstone Launchpad, a campus-based entrepreneurship program providing students with mentorship services. Aided by the additional support, Thomas-Quarcoo and Obeng refined their idea and reached out to the 25- to 40-year-old demographic to harness a younger generation’s desire to fuse tradition with modernity.

Ka Bom Designs won first place in the People’s Choice and Graduate Student categories at November’s Innovative Idea Competition, an annual event organized by Temple University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute.

Bolstered by this success, Thomas-Quarcoo and Obeng have shopped around their idea. By giving female entrepreneurs an entrance into the fashion industry, Ka Bom hopes to alter the the conversation surrounding not only women, but Africa and its global value, Thomas-Quarcoo said. Far from its media representation as an area of starvation and strife, she continued, Africa could be seen as an emerging market and source of innovation.

“Fashion is the vehicle, but I see us making a dent in the global view of Africa,” Thomas-Quarcoo said. “The possibilities are endless.”