The natural-beauty-care line Alaffia was born as a labor of love after its founders, Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Prairie Rose Hyde, met in Tchala’s home country of Togo in 1996 while Hyde was stationed there in the Peace Corps. The couple moved to California in 1998 with the shared goal of creating a company that could help alleviate poverty in West Africa.
Alaffia (pronounced “ah-la-fee-uh,” a common greeting in Togo that means a state of peace, health, and well-being), which has a product line that covers a wide range of skin and hair types and uses fair-trade unrefined shea butter and coconut oil, has since established multiple charitable and empowerment projects to benefit schools, maternal health, and reforestation. The product line has expanded since the first shea-butter cooperative was established in 2003, and is now the No. 2 personal-care brand at Whole Foods Market.
We connected with Tchala and Hyde to learn more about their business.
Experience Life | Why did you choose beauty care and personal-care products as a way to help alleviate poverty in West Africa?
Olowo-n’djo Tchala | Since childhood, my mother instilled in me a responsibility to use my opportunities for the benefit of the less fortunate. After I moved to the United States with my partner, Rose, we saw the potential value of handcrafted shea butter in Western markets.
Prairie Rose Hyde | To add on to that, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, I learned that what would be most useful to the farmers I was working with was providing information on how to access those markets and sell their materials for fair prices.
OT | The plan was to provide that information and help these women mobilize their resources to be sold at fair-trade prices. We couldn’t find any buyers willing to do so, so we decided we’d have to do it ourselves.
EL | How has the brand evolved over the years? Why were unrefined shea butter and coconut oil important ingredients for your line?
OT | Our goal in creating Alaffia was to alleviate poverty — and also show to the world the value of traditionally made ingredients. Women such as my mother, who are not able to participate in the Western education system, have no opportunities toward economic benefit because they can’t read and write. And I don’t think we [Togolese] can get out of poverty unless they can participate. Alaffia allows them to do so.
PRH | We’ve come a long way in the past 15 years. And we’ve had to learn along the way…