The products you use on your skin can have an immense impact on not only the way you look, but also the way you feel. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and whatever you put on it is absorbed into your body. That’s why it’s so important to use quality, natural products without harmful ingredients (click here to read more about ingredients to avoid).
But the effects of skin care products can reach even further yet. The beauty industry is huge; a report analyzing the market from 2012 to 2017 estimates it could reach $265 billion by 2017. An industry that size is clearly going to have an impact on the global economy, the environment, and people’s lives – and that impact isn’t always positive. From exploitation of resources to poor wages and prices for the labor of suppliers, the quest to make products that give companies the greatest profit is common.
Fortunately, responsible, healthy, and fair skin care companies are on the rise as consumers become more educated and concerned about the impact of the products they purchase. And a superstar among this group is Alaffia.
Alaffia is far more than a great line of natural skin and hair care products – it’s a company with a global conscience and a bigger purpose.
Founded by Olowo-n’djo Tchala, a native of the small western African country Togo, Alaffia was created as a way to turn natural resources and traditional skills and knowledge into a way of improving lives.
It’s not news that much of Africa is in extreme poverty – poverty that Tchala experienced firsthand. The sixth of eight children, he grew up in an 8 by 10-foot room he shared with his mother and siblings. Helping his mother with her farm, like his older siblings, Tchala dropped out of school by sixth grade to work. One of his jobs was collecting and selling shea nuts at the local market.
Tchala met his wife, Rose Hyde, when she was in his village as a Peace Corps volunteer. He eventually joined her in the United States and began learning English. Several years later, he earned a degree in Organizational Studies with an emphasis on Global Economic Systems from the University of California – Davis. He focused on trying to understand why Africa remained in such poverty despite its abundant resources, and his education reinforced what his experiences as a child taught him – it would take Africans themselves to lift Africa out of poverty.
Together, Tchala and his wife began creating an organization to accomplish this. In order to truly improve communities in Togo, they decided their sustainable business plan would have to meet three criteria:
1. The resource had to be environmentally sustainable.
2. The resource had to be traded on the world market.
3. It had to involve cultural knowledge and practices.
The perfect fit: shea butter. Shea trees grow wild across Africa and women have been collecting the nuts and extracting shea butter for generations, selling it to support their families. Tchala set up a Fair Trade shea butter cooperative in Togo where women receive fair wages for their work.
Shea butter has been traded globally for centuries and, unfortunately, the majority sold on today’s American and European market isn’t fairly traded. It can take up to 30 hours of labor to produce a single kilogram of handcrafted shea butter, but the women doing this work typically don’t even receive a full dollar for these hours.
But Alaffia pays 15-25 percent above market price for shea nuts and their cooperative members receive a salary more than four times greater than the average family income in Togo, enabling their workers to provide their children with proper food, clothing, and schooling. Members also receive full medical care, employment security, and a month of paid vacation each year.
Think this makes their products more expensive for you, the customer? Hardly! At Natural Healthy Concepts, we sell Alaffia’s great Everyday Shea 32-ounce body lotions, washes, shampoos, and conditioners for $13.95. That’s less than 50 cents an ounce!
And their products are wonderful! Tchala’s wife Rose, with education in enthobotany, biology, and ecology, created all of Alaffia’s handcrafted formulations, relying on natural, effective ingredients. Most of their products include shea butter, which is wonderful for skin. (Learn more about shea butter here.) I’m personally a big fan of their Melon & Shea Butter Harmonizing Night Cream. And I love the lavender-scented Everyday Shea Foaming Hand Soap we have in the restrooms here at NHC. And if you’re a fan of African black soap like me, Alaffia is a great source for authentic, quality black soap. Try this Lemongrass Citrus African Black Soap.
In addition to paying their employees a fair wage, as a Fair Trade business, Alaffia puts 10 percent of sales toward community empowerment projects in education, gender equality, maternal health, and reforestation.
Through their Bicycles for Education program, Alaffia donates used, refurbished bikes to school children, primarily girls. This may not seem like a big deal, but many children in rural Togo have to walk 5 to 15 miles to and from school each day. Imagine walking more than ten miles each day, doing chores and helping at home, and still trying to find time to study. It’s especially difficult for girls, who typically have more household responsibilities than boys. In fact, 91 percent of rural girls don’t finish secondary school. Among the children who have received a bike, 95 percent stay in school. Learn more about the program here.
Alaffia also provides school supplies, helps repair schools, and donates furniture.
By employing primarily women in their shea butter cooperative, Alaffia helps support women financially, which helps them to be recognized as important, valuable members of the family and community. Click here to learn more.
It’s estimated that each day in West Africa, 225 women and 1,200 newborns die from complications in childbirth. In fact, Tchala’s sister died in childbirth. Many of these deaths are preventable with simple medical care and intervention, but maternal health programs are severely underfunded.
Each year, Alaffia partners with local health clinics in Togo to provide 400 women with pre- and postnatal care including monthly checkups, prenatal vitamins, and delivery care. Mothers and their children even continue to receive care six months after birth. Since the program began, not a single mother or child has been lost. Get more information here.
Alaffia recognizes that a healthy, sustained environment is essential to a healthy planet and to African economy and traditional lifestyles. Much deforestation has occurred as a result of charcoal production and commercial logging and mining. To support reforestation, Alaffia provides alternative fuel sources so individuals and families don’t have to rely on wood or charcoal. They also support sustainable farming practices including donating fruit and forage trees that not only provide a food source, but also help reduce soil erosion. Learn more here.
How NHC is Helping
Besides supporting Alaffia by selling their great products, at our retail store in Appleton, Wisconsin, we support various drives and donations, including collecting eyeglasses that Alaffia will donate to individuals in need in Togo. It’s estimated that nearly half of individuals in African institutions for the blind would be able to read regular or large print if they had glasses. However, a pair of glasses can cost several months salary for many families. With people in the U.S. throwing out approximately four million pairs of glasses each year, our donations could make a huge difference.
So see what this remarkable company has to offer. Go to our website and take a look at their products, from shea and coconut lotions, body wash, products for curly hair, to handmade baskets. Invest in quality skincare and a better life for communities and the planet.