Here on the blog, we’ve been fans of SheaMoisture for over 3 years. Until some months ago, I was familiar with the brand’s story after reading it so many times on product labels, but I didn’t think it was a REAL story. You know what I mean?
Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy. Through Community Commerce you help empower disadvantaged women to realize a brighter, healthier future.”
Even after learning that Sofi Tucker was a real person, meeting actual Sofi Tucker grandchildren who run the business today, and reading about their Community Commerce in Ghana, I just felt, “Oh, that’s nice!”
I still didn’t get it.
Until last week, when I visited 2 communities in Northern Ghana with the SheaMoisture and SheaMoisture Nigeria Teams, Umy- the winner of the Young Sofi Tucker competition, and blogger boo, Tosin of Africanism Cosmopolitan & Naija Naturals.
All the Shea butter used in SheaMoisture products is sourced directly from 15 women’s cooperatives in Northern Ghana. We visited two of them, the Bognayili and Gupanarigu Cooperatives, less than an hour’s drive from the city of Tamale.
So. SheaMoisture buys the shea it needs to make products from these women in Ghana. Why is this special?
Sure, like any self-respecting business with Shea in its name, SheaMoisture needs to buy Shea butter to make products. Duh.
What matters, what makes the difference, is HOW they do it.
Buying the Shea somehow, anyhow, would satisfy their production needs. From a capitalist standpoint, the market should drive the cost and in this case, it would be too easy for SheaMoisture to buy Shea from these women in vulnerable communities, at little to nothing.
Inspired by their grandmother, the SheaMoisture family IS doing business differently, as corny or cliché as this may sound. They use a Community Commerce business model, where they source their Shea in direct partnership with communities, and this is changing the lives of women who are doing today what Sofi Tucker was doing back then in 1912.
How Shea Moisture’s Community Commerce is Impacting Lives
The women used to be at the mercy of middlemen who would refuse to buy their Shea at the offered prices. This was a deliberate tactic, because after holding out until the Shea butter is just about to spoil, the women would eventually be forced to cave in to sell at a ridiculous price, just to get something for their hard work.
Now, under SheaMoisture’s Community Commerce programme, they have eliminated the middlemen. With their partners on the ground, SheaMoisture purchases all their Shea directly from women in 15 cooperatives, at an ethical wage- which is 2 or 3 times more than the price at which their Shea is traded in the market.
They trained the women and continued to train them on best practices to obtain and preserve the Shea butter. Not only is the Shea butter good enough for SheaMoisture, the women are at an advantage because their Shea is also sought after by other buyers, who recognise the good quality.
Of course, as big as SheaMoisture is, it cannot buy all the Shea butter in Northern Ghana. If more companies would source their ingredients like this, communities like these would be much better off.
You are a part of the SheaMoisture story
Whenever you buy a SheaMoisture product with the Community Commerce label, know that you are a part of the story, because 10% of the profits gained from the sale of Community Commerce products is donated back to these communities.
Honestly, I did not expect our day in Tamale to go as it did. We were warmly welcomed in each community, with song and dance. It was evident that the SheaMoisture Team were not strangers, as they make periodic visits to the communities to see how things are going, and how else they can help.
While we were taken round, to see the process of how Shea butter is made, my favourite part was sitting down in each community, and with the aid of translators, listening to the conversations between the SheaMoisture team and the women. The women told us how SheaMoisture’s partnership was changing their lives. They also made sure to talk about their issues.
The Bognayili women want to develop a new land at a location closer to the main road, and erect a building with a grinding machine, so that they can expand. Because the roads in their communities are bumpy and untarred, they experience great difficulty in getting their product to the market, especially in the rainy season. They also asked for training, so that they can properly discharge or process the by-products of shea butter production, as they realised that just dumping them was offensive to the environment.
The Gupanarigu women expressed great pride in the fact that they are now business women. While before, they were just making shea butter because that is what they could do, now, they have business sense. They have also developed a savings scheme for the members of their coop, to encourage each woman to save, and not spend all her earnings.
Truly, truly, empowering a woman is empowering the community. There are 141 families in Bognayili, and 150 members of the cooperative. This means that, each family in the community is impacted by working with SheaMoisture. The women are breadwinners, and they make sure their kids are in school.
Most of the men are engaged in agriculture- growing potatoes, yams, but this isn’t as lucrative as selling Shea butter under the Community Commerce model. They are also happy that the women can provide at home.
Still, There’s So Much More to Do!
There’s a lot of work to be done, of course. One company cannot be everything to a people, and is definitely no substitute for government.
I’m deeply inspired that SheaMoisture is out here, choosing to be driven by something more than dollars and cents. I love that the brand is not just about providing us consumers with hair, skin and beauty products with cleaner, more natural ingredients (which is great), but that the women at the heart of the production process are also benefiting from it. It truly is “A better way to beautiful”.
I am usually overwhelmed by the thought of doing something that seems “little” in the grand scale of things, but this experience is a lesson to me that the little one chooses to do, is not little at all, and can go a very long way!
On our way back to Tamale, we noticed some big electric poles that looked new and shiny, but they were not connected by cables. Because these communities do not have electricity, the people have no choice but to cut their Shea trees to make firewood. They are already dealing with the effects of deforestation and if they don’t get their power situation sorted, their present source of livelihood (Shea butter) could be threatened.
I’m back in Lagos now, but I will not forget these memories. It’s crazy that I was in Ghana for four years, and in one day, I experienced the culture like never before (yes, one of the many cultures!) It was all so vibrant and beautiful.
The Tora and Damba cultural dances were LIT. You NEED to see them. See Tosin’s vlog from the trip down here:
When members of our group joined in the dancing, they were sprayed with money! I thought that was just a Nigerian thing lol apparently not! In Gupanarigu, the Chief gave us yams and 2 guinea fowls!
Lest I forget, the Bognayili women gave us a bowl each of fresh shea butter. I will cherish mine with my heart.
You can shop SheaMoisture products at the best prices, directly from their official Nigerian partner- Perfect Trust Cosmetics; with 5 stores in Abuja, and online, they deliver nationwide.