Alaffia: Beyond Fair Trade

Alaffia founders Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Rose Hyde have perfected a remarkable business model, one that has seen their operation grow exponentially — and also make an impact on the lives of women and children 7,000 miles away.

In the West African nation of Togo, a young girl rides her new bike to school. In Washington state, production facility workers bottle shea butter. In New York City, a U.S. consumer shops for shampoo at Whole Foods.

The common link between these three events? Olympia, Wash.–based Alaffia. Since founding the company in 2003, Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Rose Hyde have perfected a remarkable business model, one that has seen their operation grow exponentially — and also make an impact on the lives of women and children 7,000 miles away.

Right Place, Right Time

Alaffia’s roots stretch back to 1996, when Hyde met Tchala on a Peace Corps volunteer mission in Togo. After marrying and moving to Hyde’s home state of Washington in 2003, they mulled over ways to spur economic development in Togo, where — despite a wealth of natural resources — nearly 60 percent of the population lives in poverty.

That’s when the idea came to them. Shea butter is a traditional Togolese staple that’s used in everything from cooking oil to healing salves. Tchala and Hyde would form a cooperative of women to harvest shea tree nuts and craft them into butter by hand, without using chemicals or harsh solvents. Alaffia (named after a traditional West African greeting meaning “peace and well-being”) would import the unrefined butter and use it as the basis for a line of consumer products. The company would pay fair wages to cooperative members and also funnel a percentage of its profits to community empowerment projects in Togo. “We realized that people in West African communities did not need handouts to rise out of poverty,” Tchala says. “They needed to be compensated fairly for their resources and knowledge.”

Alaffia started small, operating out of a trailer and selling soaps and moisturizers at local farmers markets. But the timing was right. Rapid growth in the organic and natural products sectors helped boost sales. And then came its big break: a 2006 distribution deal with Whole Foods.

Tangible Impact

Today you can find Alaffia fair trade body care at natural product retailers, including Whole Foods, Sprouts and King Soopers, and various online retailers. The company’s annual revenues are projected to surpass $20 million by the end of 2014, and it now has 70 full-time employees in Olympia. It also employs 500 women in its shea butter cooperative, making it Central Togo’s largest private employer. Not surprisingly, shipping continues to play a central role for the company. Alaffia uses a combination of FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight to deliver finished products to retail outlets and individual consumers.

The company’s success has allowed it to expand its community development efforts. In the last few years, Alaffia has donated nearly 5,300 bikes to Togolese schoolchildren — a critical need in a country where a lack of transportation options often blocks access to education. It funds schools and plants more than 10,000 trees each year. And it has set up a maternal health program that funds 1,000 births each year and which has also helped save the lives of more than 600 babies in Togo’s Basaar region.

The company has big plans for the future, including expanding into international markets. But community empowerment — particularly for Togolese women — will always remain a core focus. “Africa cannot get out of poverty unless women are part of the equation,” Tchala says. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Hyde echoes those sentiments. “I see the pride that our cooperative members have,” she notes. “The long-term effects of empowerment and that pride illustrate the real impact of Alaffia.”

Explore Alaffia at www.alaffia.com.

Comments

  1. I have used their products and am impressed with the quality. The fact that some of the money I spend goes to people who need a good income is fantastic! Everyone benefits from this type of business model.

    Ronald Hooper May 24, 2014
  2. Hi,
    As a Togolese, this video gives me another reason to be pride of working for Fedex…
    Ayélé

    Ayélé Afanou May 26, 2014
    1. I would like to connect with you, would love to do something similar to this, perhaps you could help me organize some of my thought and share some of your cultural experiences with me.

      Eric McNeil May 29, 2014
    2. I found you on LinkedIn & we have an extended connection but send me a connection request via LinkedIn eric.mcneil18@yahoo.com

      Eric McNeil May 29, 2014
      1. Hi Eric,

        We would love to connect, email us at community@alaffia.com.

        Alaffia June 2, 2014
  3. Purple Promise reaching out to ALL!

    Joe Sheffield May 28, 2014
  4. Spreading clips like this would make a BIG difference in our less fortunate brothers and sisters lives. Patronage for a good cause is NEVER a vice.

    Ekene Oselukwue May 29, 2014
  5. I really wamt some of your shea buttet!!

    Maria May 29, 2014
    1. Hi Maria,

      Visit http://www.alaffia.com/store/pc/Handcrafted-Shea-Butter-c3.htm to buy some of our handcrafted, natural shea butter. Thank you for your support!

      Alaffia June 2, 2014
  6. As a FedEx employee and a precent with Togolese ancestry I am honored and will start using products.

    andrea May 30, 2014
    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, please visit http://www.alaffia.com to learn more and visit our online store at http://www.alaffia.com/store/pc/viewcategories.asp.

      Alaffia June 2, 2014
  7. As a FedEx employee and a person with Togolese ancestry I am honored and will start using your products. Sorry about typos.

    andrea May 30, 2014
  8. Praise God for this awesome venture and all the wonderful results it is producing. I pray for abundant harvest from this planted seed. Kudos to ALL involved from start to end product
    Blessings

    Theresa May 30, 2014
  9. I too love the quality of the products. I promote them in my community for both the beneficial effects and for the the empowerment of women in a country outside my own ( the US).

    Renee June 2, 2014
  10. I love the document and the pictures shown about Togo in the Afriacn Nation.Thats how we get connected and understand other people's cultures and love them as they are.Thanks showing this vidoes.

    ismaila bojang June 10, 2014

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