Creating jobs in Africa and the U.S. with the help of shea butter

Traditional African beauty products like coconut oil and shea butter, once obscure in the United States, have become permanent fixtures on the shelves of major American retailers.

That’s thanks, in large part, to businesses like Alaffia, a Washington state–based company founded by Olowo-n’djo Tchala, a Togolese immigrant, and his American wife, Rose Hyde.

Man and woman leaning against desk in yellow room (© Ben Moon)
Olowo-n’djo Tchala, a Togolese immigrant, and his American wife, Rose Hyde (© Ben Moon)

Alaffia will be featured at the upcoming 17th annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in Lomé, Togo, August 8–10. The forum will engage delegates from the United States and across sub-Saharan Africa in discussions about U.S.-Africa trade and investment.

Officials from both regions are committed to promoting trans-Atlantic business partnerships. That commitment helps entrepreneurs like Tchala and Hyde create jobs on both sides of the ocean. Their company, Alaffia, has created 125 jobs in Washington state and some 4,200 in Togo.

Tchala and Hyde founded Alaffia in 2003 with the goal of empowering Togolese communities through fair trade, in which fair prices are paid to local producers and the proceeds go back into the communities. Alaffia sells all-natural, traditional Togolese products, including soap, coconut oil and shea butter, at retailers such as Whole Foods. Profits from sales fund community initiatives like maternal health and various education projects.

African woman stirring shea to make butter (Alaffia)
An Alaffia employee stirs a vat of shea butter. (Alaffia)

Tchala, who grew up in rural Togo and had to drop out of school in the sixth grade, has seen how trade can transform communities. He is adamant that free and fair trade is Africa’s path to prosperity.

“We have something to offer the world,” Tchala says. “It is not [always about] ‘What can the West do for us?’ It is ‘What can we do for the West?’”