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Tampa-based home-sharing platform introduces rental properties that cater to women of color

TAMPA — Even after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans still had few places where they could live and work freely. One was Eatonville, a town six miles north of Orlando, that became one of the first black municipalities to incorporate in the country. It was the childhood home of a famous writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston.

Eatonville — and Hurston — have inspired the operators of Tampa-based Innclusive to create safe places for people of color to live and travel around the world. The company — which says it provides a service overlooked by much larger rival Airbnb — is taking its platform to another level with an initiative called Zora.

Zora is an exclusive line of properties with amenities made by women of color to cater specifically for women of color. Women of color, one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, has been ignored for too long, said Rohan Gilkes, co-founder and CEO of Innclusive.

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The rental listings, which can be used for work or vacation, will offer items such as a blow dryer with a comb, a flat iron, satin pillowcases and neighborhoods selected for safety. The flagship home will open in Washington D.C. next month.

"Everything that can be sourced by women of color is what Zora will carry," Gilkes said. "We want to give an opportunity for small businesses to be listed in a chain of properties, which may not have happened with a hotel."

Innclusive has partnered with five women-of-color-owned brands. Guests can expect bath, body and home products from Los Angeles-based So Posh Beauty, along with an assortment of candles from LIT Brooklyn. Bedding and other bedroom accessories supplied by metro Atlanta-based Le Creatif Linen. Celena Gill Design will provide some of the decor such as throw pillows. Hair essentials such as shampoo and condition are from Koils by Nature, a South Carolina company.

St. Petersburg-native Shauna Wilson, an avid world traveler who's visited almost 45 countries, agreed that most hotel toiletries are not designed with women of color in mind. Some hotels don't supply a shower cap, which can be a problem for women of color who don't want to wet their hair while bathing. If a cap is provided, it is often too small to fit all her hair. So, it still gets soaked, she said.

"This is a unique change to cater to the needs of women of color," said Pamela J. Booker, owner of hair care line Koils by Nature, which launched in 2009. "Our hair texture is different. When women of color use the generic hotel products, it may not work."

The listings for Zora will not necessarily be black-owned. Each property will be either managed by Innclusive but owned by a third-party like the property in Washington D.C., or owned exclusively by Innclusive like the next rental in Bethesda, Maryland. Either way, the team designs and furnishes the space to meet the needs of women of color and will stock each rental with black-owned products often missing at hotels and other vacation properties.

After the two bedroom, two bathroom condo in the nation's capital, Innclusive plans to open a space in Maryland a month later and another in Miami after Christmas. The target markets include Los Angeles, New York, Boston and New Orleans. Innclusive wants to expand to 2,000 properties over the next three years.

Gilkes along with fellow entrepreneur Zakiyyah Myers created Innclusive last June to eliminate discrimination and promote diversity and inclusion they say is often not found at Airbnb. After posting his experiences while using the San Francisco-giant, Gilkes received an overwhelming amount of emails from people with similar stories of prejudice, which prompted him to team with other entrepreneurs to fix this problem.

"Travel for a lot of people is therapeutic," said Gilkes, who admits this is often not the case. "It's a part of your life that is supposed to be positive."

Contact Tierra Smith at tsmith@ Follow @bytierrasmith.