How This Fair-trade Hair and Skincare Brand Is Making a Difference in West Africa and the U.S.
Alaffia Founder and CEO Olowo-n’djo Tchala tells T+L about the inspiration behind the brand.
In a conversation with Travel + Leisure, founder and CEO Olowo-n’djo Tchala discussed how his experiences and desire to create a positive change in his home community shaped the creation of his beauty brand Alaffia.
Born in the West African nation of Togo, Olowo-n’djo Tchala founded fair-trade beauty brand Alaffia in the early 2000s alongside his partner, Prairie Rose Hyde, after moving to the United States. Inspired by his upbringing in the small village of Kaboli in Northern Togo, and by the hardworking and generous community of women he grew up around (most of all, his mother), they created this brand to bridge the gap between West Africa and the United States.
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Ingredients indigenous to West Africa like shea butter and African black soap have been used for centuries, and the women in Tchala’s home village already had the traditional knowledge and skills to utilize these resources. And since Americans wanted natural, fair-trade beauty products that worked, Tchala opted to create a new model that satisfied the needs of Americans while reinvesting and empowering people in Togo through initiatives for positive change. “Let’s use the skill and the knowledge that we have to create something, generate economic activity...[and put that] into long-term empowerment projects that uplift our communities, particularly our women.”
Beauty, equality, and empowerment in Togo, West Africa are the principles at the Alaffia’s core, and the brand is built on fair-trade concepts, like providing equal employment opportunities, having healthy and safe working conditions, engaging in sustainable practices, and more. Alaffia’s Maternal Care Empowerment Project, Reforestation Empowerment Project, and other initiatives reinvest earnings back into those West African communities by addressing some of the most pressing issues. So far, Alaffia has funded over 5,500 births and planted over 90,000 trees. The brand empowers Americans as consumers, too: Tchala noted that Alaffia gives Americans the choice to support a fair-trade brand that seeks to improve its workers’ lives rather than buy products from a brand that exploits its workers through harsh labour.
Tchala frequently travels for work, and he said that it’s had a major impact on how he views the world: “Travel always helps me to have tolerance, to see diversity, to see beauty in humanity, and to see how beautiful this land of America is, how beautiful American people are...”
For Tchala, one of the downsides of travel is missing his kids, so he started sending them postcards whenever he’s away — it’s a simple but heartfelt way to stay connected even when they're far apart.
Now to the products. Based in African tradition and using ingredients like African black soap and unrefined shea butter, Alaffia’s products are natural and safe, and they address a range of hair, face, and body concerns and needs. The Authentic African Black Soap All-in-one and pure unrefined shea butter are among the brand’s bestsellers, but there’s also a range of kid-friendly products like bubble bath and shampoo and body wash. The Beautiful Curls collection includes a range of haircare products like leave-in conditioner, hydrating oil, curl defining gel, and more — so the brand really has you covered from head to toe.
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