We are honored to feature an exclusive interview with Rose Hyde and Olowo-n'djo Tchala, founders of Alaffia. Alaffia is a company that is not only making natural, nourishing skincare products, but it is also improving gender equality and empowering women globally. Rose and Olowo-n'dio define empowerment as: "Identifying what individuals and communities have at their disposal - resources, skills, knowledge, and traditions - and supporting or creating initiatives in which they can use these tools and resources within their means."
Read this inspiring interview and learn how Alaffia is transforming health and wellness for women around the world.
What inspired you to start Alaffia?
Olowo-n’djo: Growing up in Togo, I was surrounded by hardworking women who had unique indigenous knowledge and skills. When I came to America, I realized that the people of my home country are living in extreme poverty and women are not being fairly compensated for their skills, knowledge, and contributions to society. My wife, Rose, and I decided to do something about this.
We wanted to conduct Community Empowerment Projects—programs designed to empower individuals to rise out of poverty and create sustainable communities. Shea butter has been handcrafted in West Africa for thousands of years and has recently been traded unfairly to European and American markets. We saw this as an opportunity for the women of Togo to utilize their traditional skills and participate in the Western economic system, while generating funds to conduct our empowerment projects.
What do find most inspiring about the world of natural beauty right now?
Olowo-n’djo: When we started out more than 10 years ago, natural beauty seemed to be more of a niche and many consumers weren’t aware of the ingredients in their body care products. Today, there is much more of push for transparency and safe skincare products. Many people are aware of the positive health benefits of switching to a natural beauty routine. Furthermore, as global connectivity rises, consumers are concerned about the origin of their purchases and the people who produce them. Instead of buying a lotion made with toxic chemicals by a machine in a factory, a person can choose a lotion made with handcrafted ingredients in small batches that empowers women and communities in Africa. This is important because it puts a face to the women, like my mother and the women employed at our cooperatives, who are sharing their natural resources with the world and producing effective, safe body care options.
Why do you think so many brands continue to formulate their products with potentially harmful chemicals and synthetic ingredients?
Rose: I believe it is partly because that is the way it has always been done in our modern market. It is a cheaper way to conduct business and mass produce products. What we are continually learning is these processes are cheap at the cost of human health and dignity. In the past, chemicals were thought to be the most effective ingredients to use in skincare products. As an ethnobotonist, I can tell you plants and other natural resources provide richer nutrients our bodies respond to ina more natural way, connecting us to the earth we inhabit.
What advice can you give to young female entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in the natural beauty world?
Rose: I would tell young female entrepreneurs to listen to themselves and to the audience they want to reach. Many people in the industry will tell you you’re wrong and don’t know what consumers want. Natural beauty is impacting the world and we must make sure this impact is positive and empowers women and communities around the globe.
What is the most inspiring thing you have seen or heard at your women's cooperatives in West Africa?
Olowo-n’djo: Every time I walk into an Alaffia cooperative, it does not feel like a production facility. Instead, there is a sense in the air of celebration, mutual respect and collaboration. No one has to give up her or his religious or traditional beliefs. The only belief we all have in common is to work and live in peace and with conviction.
We currently employ more than 500 women at our cooperatives and each face has a story. Women can now afford to send their children to school, care for elderly relatives, and contribute to their families and communities. One such woman is Selifa Ganiou. She once shared her experience with me and it touched my soul.
“Before my integration into the Alaffia cooperative, I moved to Benin to work in the capitol city and was without my children and my husband. Now, since I’ve been with the cooperative for the last year, I find it possible to support the needs of my family. For example, I was able to save the life of my older brother thanks to the money that I make. I have seven children; four are presently in school. When the other three were school age, I was not able to live with them and did not have the means to keep them in school. I would like to thank everyone who supports our cooperative and encourage them to take a strong hand to live happily with their families, like I am able to now that I am with the cooperative and no longer have to travel to find work.”
What's next for Alaffia?
Olowo-n’djo: Through the support and generosity of our customers and retailers, Alaffia will continue to grow in order to alleviate poverty, advance gender equality, and empower communities in West Africa and the US. We also want every person to have the opportunity to purchase a body care product that goes towards making a positive impact in their world.