Olympia based business provides model for international sustainability and development
By Clara Atwell, Editor-in-Chief | Oct. 19, 2018
Olowo-n’djo Tchala was born in rural Togo, a small country on the west coast of Africa. He was raised alongside his seven siblings by his mother who, like many Togolese, is a farmer. In the sixth grade, Tchala could no longer afford education, so he was forced to drop out of school. He spent the remainder of his childhood farming with his mother.
Despite these odds, Tchala and his wife Prairie Rose Hyde have gone on to build the locally processed, and internationally sold cosmetics company Alaffia. Their company was founded with the mission of alleviating poverty and advancing gender equality through fair trade indigenous resources and community empowerment initiatives.
The couple first met while Hyde was working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tchala’s village, Kaboli. When Hyde’s work ended, the two moved to the U.S. in order to pursue higher education.
Following college, they focused their time on a shared passion: fair trade business, which took form in what is now Alaffia. It began as a cooperative — a business that is managed and owned by its members who share profits — in 2003, selling shea butter products. Since then, it has grown to encompass six brands: Alaffia, Everyday Shea, Everyday Coconut, Alaffia Authentic, Beautiful Curls, and Queen Alaffia. Each brand — other than Queen Alaffia, which specializes in the sale of artisan products — focuses on a specific ingredient such as shea butter, black soap, or coconut oil.
Alaffia has built their company on their own sustainable business model. They focus on employing women in Togo by utilizing traditional knowledge of creating unrefined, no-chemical products.
“To me, understanding the values of the traditional settings that we have here in Togo, it was very clear to me that there is only one way that Togo or the continent of Africa can get out of poverty, and the only way they can do that is to participate in the utilization of our resources, which means traditional knowledge,” Tchala said in the video “Alaffia: Fostering a Body of People.”
Alaffia pays well over the market price for these raw materials. This allows the over-700 cooperative members to receive a salary four times greater than the Togo average, with full medical care and a month of vacation time per year. Due to Allaffia’s recognized ethical treatment of their employees, the company has been certified fair trade by the Institute of Market Ecology.
The developed raw materials are then shipped to Olympia, Washington, the company’s U.S. base. There the materials are manufactured into over 300 types of skin and hair care products and sold to consumers in more than 30 countries through retailers including Target, Amazon, Whole Foods, and Giraffe — a store on Vashon that focuses on the sale of fair trade goods.
Allaffia believes that each individual who touches their products, from origin to shelf, plays a crucial part in contributing to the company’s mission. Twenty to 30 percent of the sale proceeds go back to community and gender empowerment projects in Togo partner communities via the company’s non-profit branch: the Global Alliance for Community Empowerment, also called The Alaffia Foundation.
“Everyone who supports Alaffia becomes a part of our family and community,” Matthew Barett, Alaffia’s Marketing Supervisor, said. “We also believe in being a source for safe, natural ingredient-based products for consumers and their families, empowering West African partner communities and the perpetuation of cultural diversity in the global market.”
These projects focus on five general sectors of empowerment: maternal care, education, reforestation, eyeglasses for workers, and the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The maternal care project is divided into two parts. The first section fully funds prenatal and postnatal care for women in Togo and has helped to deliver almost 5000 babies. The second part of the project partners with local clinics in Togo to help provide training and information on women’s health issues, as well as various empowerment struggles.
“In the words of our founder, ‘Healthy mothers means healthy babies,’” Barrett said. “Additionally, because gender inequality is still pervasive in West Africa, it is important to promote the role of women in society to ensure equality for all genders.”
Through the education project, over 8,000 used bikes from the U.S. have been sent to Togo. These bikes assist students who would otherwise be forced to walk up to 10 miles to school. Since the beginning of this project in 2006, 95 percent of bike recipients have graduated from high school. Alaffia has also partnered with retail stores to collect school supplies for 32,640 students, funded the building of 2311 classroom benches, and built 12 schools.
In west Africa, deforestation has had a major impact on erosion and food security for families. This has inspired Alaffia to fund the planting of over 59,000 trees. The company also trains locals on the impact of cutting shea trees, an important natural resource, for firewood and charcoal. Alaffia then promotes the search for and education around the use of sustainable fuels.
Their eyeglasses project helps to ensure a better work environment for Togolese workers in all sectors. It was created as a response to the impact bad vision can have on an individual’s ability to work and the high prices for optometrist appointments in Togo. Alaffia collects eyeglasses form retailers in the US and sizes them in Togo. They have donated over 25,000 eyeglasses since the beginning of the project in 2006.
The final project focuses on FGM or female circumcision, the practice of removing some or all of external female genitalia in order to subjugate and control women. Many women are still subjected to this practice, despite it being an internationally recognized human rights abuse. The process creates life-threatening results, including severe infections. Through Alaffia’s FGM eradication project, women are educated on the dangers of the practice.
The impact of these projects serve as a representation of Alaffia’s mission to better the global community, and have steadily grown with the company itself.
As Alaffia continues to expand, they plan to remain focused on putting their mission first and building a model of sustainable development to help African nations break the cycle of poverty.
“It isn’t [always about] what can the West do for us — it’s what we can do for the West,” Tchala said.