Vendors Are Partners: Alaffia this month’s Fair Trade Partner
Thanks to Robin Michael, Alaffia Western Regional Sales Manager, for answering a few questions about Alaffia.
What is your origin story? Who started the business and why?
Alaffia is a fair trade (certified by IMO) hair, face, and body care organization that began in 2003 by founders Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Prairie Rose Hyde. The two met when during Rose’s service in the Peace Corps, she was stationed in Olowo-n’djo’s village of Kabole. Headquartered in Olympia, Washington, Alaffia’s clean, safe, and efficacious products incorporate indigenous, nutrient-rich ingredients handcrafted at our six women’s cooperatives in Togo and Ghana. A percentage of each product sale contributes to our Empowerment Projects in West Africa, addressing vital areas for the self-empowerment of the people of West Africa—maternal care, education, reforestation, and eyeglasses.
Do you have a special tagline or slogan?
Beauty – Equality - Empowerment
What are your most popular products and why?
- Babies and Up Lemon Lavender Bubble Bath- safe, clean bubbles without irritation!!
- Purely Coconut Hand & Body Lotion- made with hand crafted fair trade coconut oil, for a non-greasy moisturizing formula.
- Charcoal Based Underarm Deodorants- best-selling formulas that wear well with lasting protection!
What makes Alaffia products unique? Why should someone buy them?
Fair trade AND efficacious. We combine the ancient wisdom of plant based oils with science to create products that are accessible, safe and effective.
Are your products fair trade, organic, co-op made, non-GMO?
We are a Fair for Life fair trade certified body care company- one of only two (Dr. Bronner’s is the other)!
How many staff members do you have?
Togo- 700 year-round, and 14,000 empowered
What would an employee say is the best part about working at Alaffia?
- “The work is very diversified, and I get to try my hand at many things. Furthermore, the work feels meaningful, and I think it attracts such great coworkers- talented, smart, and all of whom want to help the business succeed.” -Matthew Barrett, Marketing Supervisor
- “Truly, it’s the people I work with.” -Jen Luck, Sales Planner (formerly of First Alternative Co-op)
- “The fact that we empower and employ people across the globe, here and in Africa, to make the world a better place. It’s all about making the world a better place…through kindness, empowerment, empathy, listening, sustainable practices. The kids who are able to stay in school because they received a bicycle through Alaffia’s “Bikes for School” program- you never know which one is going to change the world or help inspire someone else who will change the world.” -Dane Halter, Alaffia Broker
Anything else we should know?
Our empowerment projects have affected more than 50,000 lives for the better! Follow link for more details: alaffia.com/empowerment/
- FaceBook @Alaffia
- Number of Followers: 18,233
- Twitter @AlaffiaSkinCare
- Number of Followers: 4657
- Instagram @alaffia
- Number of Followers: 17,200
More History, Fair Trade Ingredient Information, Baskets and Empowerment Projects
Over the years, there have been moments that shaped the natural products industry. One such moment occurred when Olowo-n’djo Tchala met Prairie Rose Hyde. No one could have imagined a young woman from rural Washington and a young man born and raised in rural Togo, West Africa with a sixth grade education would go on to build one of the most successful fair trade body care organizations in the natural products industry.
Olowo-n’djo Tchala was born and raised in the village of Kaboli, Togo where he shared a single 8’x10’ room with his mother and seven siblings. After failing to afford school tuition, Olowo-n’djo dropped out of school in the sixth grade. In the years after, he worked alongside his mother on her farm. In 1996, Olowo-n’djo met and fell in love with Peace Corps Volunteer, Prairie Rose Hyde, while she worked in Kaboli. After her 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 studied English and earned a degree in Organizational Theory. Determined to make a difference in his home country, Olowo-n’djo applied for a $50,000 business loan and, not familiar with the American banking system, did not understand why the bank could not fulﬁll his request when he had no personal ﬁnancial assets. Eventually, Rose’s brother offered his house as collateral and the couple obtained the loan, traveled to Togo, and formed what we know today as Alaffia.
Fair trade is a movement of individuals and organizations working to ensure producers in economically disadvantaged countries receive a greater percentage of the price paid by consumers. While there are several definitions of fair trade, they all include:
- Fair Trade Price: base price for raw ingredients or goods is adjusted higher than open market price.
- Price Premium: a percentage above the base fair trade price is paid into a separate account for development projects in producer communities.
- Working Conditions: fair trade operators must adhere to basic human & labor rights, including the right to organize, no child labor, access to health care, and so on.
- Environmental Stewardship: fair trade organizations must minimize environmental impact.
To Alaffia, fair trade means paying a fair price or wage in the local context, providing equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmental sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability, and reducing the number of middlemen between producers & consumers. We believe fair trade should be environmentally, economically, and culturally sustainable and give local communities the opportunity to self-empower.
Fair Trade Unrefined Ingredients:
Shea butter is the oil from the nuts of wild Shea trees scattered throughout the wooded savanna of West and Central Africa. Shea butter has been used for centuries in Africa. It’s protective and emollient properties are most valued for skin care. In recent clinical trials, shea butter was found to help to protect skin against climate and UV aggressions, reduce appearance of wrinkles, soothe irritated and chapped skin, and moisturize the epidermis.
Handcrafted, unrefined shea butter contains the maximum amount of bioactive phytochemicals. Most shea butter available to the general public outside West Africa is white and odorless: in other words, it has been refined to remove the natural scent and color of natural shea butter. In the process, the majority of the antioxidant agents are also removed. The yellow tint of unrefined shea butter is due to the Vitamin E content. Remove this color, and the beneficial vitamins have also been removed. Refined shea butter is often hard and grainy, not smooth and creamy like pure, unrefined shea butter.
Unrefined Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil is traditionally extracted oil from fresh fruit of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera. Coconuts have been cultivated in coastal West Africa and been part of the diet and skin care for centuries. Virgin coconut oil is an important food oil, and is applied to skin and hair directly to protect from sun and wind damage.
Virgin coconut oil is high in natural antioxidants and protects skin from damaging free-radicals. It also helps keep skin looking firm, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Repeated use of virgin coconut oil helps keep skin smoother and more evenly textured by removing the outer layer of dead skin cells. We extract our virgin coconut oil by hand using traditional fermentation methods in Togo, West Africa from fresh coconuts grown organically on small farms. We use our virgin coconut oil in its natural, unrefined state for maximum effectiveness.
Refined coconut oil has been stripped of natural antioxidants and is highly prone to free-radical generation. Free radicals damage skin cells and cause skin aging and cancer. The antioxidants in unrefined coconut oil not only prevent free-radicals from forming in the oil, but also help protect against free-radicals that the skin is exposed to.
The Alaffia basket weaving program began in 2004 and the first Alaffia Basket Weaving Cooperative was established in Tchevié, southern Togo in 2006. In 2008, Alaffia baskets were Certified Fair Trade by GiFFT and the Alaffia Internal Control System with full quality parameters was established. In November 2014, our Togo basket weaving program underwent a full and rigorous inspection by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) Fair for Life Social & Fair Trade Certification Program. IMO is one of the first and most renowned international bodies for inspection, certification and quality assurance of sustainable products. Our Togo baskets are now Certified Fair Trade by IMO. Furthermore, our baskets, as well as shea butter, other oils and soaps received IMO's highest possible Fair for Life performance ranking (5). To our knowledge, our West African Togo baskets will be the first and only to be Certified Fair Trade. The certification covers the baskets woven in our Sokodé, Togo center.
Alafﬁa’s success is not simply measured by proﬁt. Our success is measured by empowerment. Empowerment Projects are Alaffia’s mission in action, funded by the sales of Alafﬁa products. Alaffia invests in our communities because it is our moral responsibility and to ensure African resources empower African communities. The goal is to alleviate poverty and encourage gender equality. Our Empowerment Projects include several Education-Based Projects, Maternal Health, FGM Eradication (Female Genital Mutilation), Eyeglasses and Reforestation. All of Alafﬁa’s projects empower Togolese communities to provide their skills and knowledge to the rest of the world and rise out of poverty. Click for more information.