the WOMEN of MORTAR – Erikka Gray

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Creativity is the center of Erikka Gray’s mission in creating District 78, a luxury scented candle and lifestyle brand based in Cincinnati, that also sells plants and other types of decor. When thinking of the motivation behind creating her brand, Erikka says, “I wanted to express my creativity, while also showing an appreciation and passion for black people and black women specifically.” District 78 started in 2013 as a vintage clothing store but closed in 2016.

With a desire to further express her creativity and pivot her business in a different direction, Erikka decided to pursue the MORTAR program to gain more knowledge. Her goal was to learn more about pivoting her business and the changing demographics, but MORTAR offered so much more. According to Erikka, MORTAR has helped her to gain the knowledge that she needed to understand her demographics and pivot her business, but also helped to connect her to larger businesses and gave her a new mission- to give back to her community and those like her. As a member of the MORTAR board, Erikka is happy to have the chance to give other women the same opportunity that she got.

When asked how we as a society can support black women better, she responded “LISTEN TO WHAT I’M TELLING YOU”, with overwhelming passion in her voice. She believes strongly that black women should have a seat at the table and be active participants in any efforts. 

In five years, Erikka sees herself owning a couple of retail stores that will combine all of her passions under one roof – a place where people can purchase candles, plants, fashion, and more from her brand and other suppliers. Of course, by that time, Beyonce will have already fallen crazy in love with Erikka’s candle line, so then there’s that. She also wants to continue to give other women of color a seat at every table, not just to be present, but to make decisions (all while actually get credit for their ideas and contributions).


Want to learn more or support Erikka’s business? You can find her at the collaborative MORTAR alumni wellness store>> Pause, on Short Vine in Cincinnati or shop online now>> District 78 online.

Written by Ashley Popoola, MORTAR Communications Intern
Photography © Allen Woods for Kelli Camille Films

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