Mariana Magala and Leela Bhatia-Newman, both 29, have been friends since they met at the University of Chicago. When the two eventually found themselves both living in DC for work—Magala works for a local hospitality company, and Bhatia-Newman (a DC native) works for a tech company—the two became particularly interested in the local maker and artisan scene.
The duo was eventually DMing each other Instagram posts from DC-area makers so often, they decided to start writing down the brands and products they’d stumbled across, sharing the list with friends who were searching for ways to shop locally.
That list has developed into Districtly Local, the online directory the duo launched this month, which allows users to filter searches by categories like paper goods, art, or clothing. The site features over 140 local groups, from Sankofa Beer Company to Cindy Liebel jewelry.
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“We felt that there were a lot of great resources to discover local restaurants and services, but not so much for physical goods,” says Bhatia-Newman of the reasoning behind creating the site. “We had already done a lot of that legwork for ourselves, just as a fun exploration in learning more about our city, and so we wanted to offer up that resource for others to have, too.”
Perhaps most importantly, the website also has filters for Black-owned, POC-owned, LGBTQ-owned, and women-owned brands, too, so customers can shop with intention. This was a priority for the duo from the get-go, says Bhatia-Newman. The friends try to shop with purpose themselves, so they decided to create an easy way for folks to support local businesses owned by a variety of people. “We wanted to take our time to make sure it was built properly from the get go,” she says, “because it’s important for us to give visibility to those under-represented and minority-owned businesses.”
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While the website was created during the pandemic, the friends’ plans for it extend well beyond this (hopefully) finite duration. “Our goal is for everyone to become familiar [with the site] to the extent that they have it bookmarked,” says Magala. “[So] whenever they’re trying to make a purchase, whether it’s a day-to-day purchase of soap or a gift for their friend, they come to Districtly Local and they look there before they go to a big box retailer.”
Now that the site is launched, Magala and Bhatia-Newman plan to expand their customer base, curate an online list of their own favorite local products, and launch a newsletter filled with new goods and updates from the DC-area makers scene. While the “passion project” currently doesn’t generate revenue, says Bhatia-Newman, if it does, they plan to reinvest it back into the site and toward the entrepreneurs it highlights. As for now, you’ll find the women typically spending their weekends working on the site in parks or on Zoom. “We’re fortunate enough that we’re really good friends, too,” says Magala, “so it becomes a blend of hanging out with your best friend and working.”
Both Magala and Bhatia-Newman say the DC area is uniquely positioned to foster a thriving artisan scene, thanks to its mix of a strong base of native residents and newcomers arriving from across the world. And, while Washington isn’t typically thought of as the same kind of inventive community as, say, a New York or Los Angeles, that could soon change: “People don’t typically think of DC as such a creative city,” says Bhatia-Newman. “[But] there’s been a lot of energy and general excitement from the maker community to say like Hey, you know what, we actually do have that diversity and richness and creative ideas.”
If you know of a local group that isn’t currently listed on the Districtly Local site, Magala and Bhatia-Newman ask that you reach out to them—the duo is always looking for new groups to include.