By Aimee Curatolo & Alaffia
Ah-la-fee-uh \ noun. A common greeting or valediction originating from central Togo, Benin,
and Nigeria. Alafﬁa means a state of peace, health, and well-being.
The story begins with Alaffia founders, Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Prairie Rose Hyde. They met and fell in love during Rose’s Peace Corps Volunteer service as an environmental volunteer in Olowo-n’djo’s home village, Kaboli. After Rose’s service ended, the couple moved to the United States with a shared goal: ﬁnding a way to alleviate poverty in West Africa. Rose entered a graduate program at the University of California, Davis, studying International Agricultural Development and Ethnobotany (the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants). Olowo-n’djo earned a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Theory. Determined to make a difference in Olowo-n’djo’s home country, the two applied for a $50,000 business loan. With that, Alaffia opened its first women’s cooperative in 2003, dedicated to producing handcrafted shea butter, which has continued to grow ever since.
Rose and Olowo-n’djo used that shea butter to develop Alaffia’s first personal care products in their home kitchen and took to the road to sell their products out of the trunk of their car. In 2004, Alaffia was officially established in Olympia, WA, where it continues to operate. When asked what the motivation was behind starting Alaffia, Olowo-n’djo stated “since childhood, my mother instilled in me a responsibility to use my opportunities for the benefit of the less fortunate. I saw the potential value of handcrafted shea butter in western markets, and it was my moral obligation to use the fair trade of this indigenous resource and cultural knowledge for the economic empowerment of my West African communities” he said.
Not only are Alaffia products created with naturally handcrafted and unrefined ingredients, they are also sourced with fair-trade practices. Alaffia’s empowerment projects and fair-trade initiatives grasp a powerful message of how a company can successfully balance production, quality control and embrace humanitarian movements. Ideally, fair trade initiatives place people at the center of the business model. A humanitarian need is identified and through a mutually beneficial relationship, people are compensated fairly for their skills and resources. Put simply, Alaffia ensures that resources procured from West Africa benefit their partner communities and allow them to participate in the global market. “It’s very clear to all of us that more in the past 600 years have left the continent of Africa than have come back in. And you can’t expect people to get out of poverty when nothing goes back in to balance it out. Therefore, I believe that any commodity or knowledge that’s mobilized out of the continent of Africa should go back to balance it out. In this case, it should be funds. Funds should go back and permanently be invested in education and health” Olowo-n’djo Tchala said.
According to Olowo-n’djo “People don’t simply want handouts. People want to work. And if people can work, that creates human dignity for what they receive. We should be able to retain our culture and at the same time participate in the global market”.
If you pick up an Alaffia product in your hands you may see a diamond shape symbol, which also has meaning behind. It is called the Eban symbol and in Togo, West Africa, the Eban is an adinkra symbol meaning connectedness and community. There are different ways of interpreting its significance, but for Alaffia they think of it as communicating protection, security and love. The Eban symbol was chosen intentionally to pair with the Alaffia – a West African benediction meaning peace, health and well-being. Together, it allows individuals in West Africa to understand Alaffia’s values, even if they may not be familiar with who they are and what they do as a social enterprise.
They are values we are proud to align with. Alaffia’s product range now extends beyond their first shea butter moisturiser (which is undoubtedly amazing to hydrate dry, summer skin), to beautiful coconut oil hair care, body washes and reishi infused creams. In the lead up to winter it is important to ensure a natural skin regime that replenishes summer skin and boosts moisture. Alaffia’s coconut and shea butter body lotions are light, nutrient-rich options to keep your skin moisturised and nourished building up to the cooler months. We recommend the Purely Coconut Body Lotion, Nourishing Day Cream and the Coconut Lime Body Wash.