The curly community has always been savvy when it comes to purchase decisions. We know how to read labels, the ingredients to watch out for, and the common and not-so-common names for them. This consumer savvy holds true when it comes to the brands behind our products as well. We want to know who is profiting from our purchases, what their sustainability policies are, and what they’re doing for the communities they serve. Now more than ever, this transparency matters to the NaturallyCurly community.
Our Leaders In Curl interview series aims to highlight the people and brands who are redefining the hair industry. That’s why we are thrilled to be speaking with Lanaia Edwards, the VP of Global Marketing for Alaffia. Alaffia recently launched their Beautiful Curls line and part of the proceeds are funding their Beautiful Arrival maternal care initiative. Social impact has been woven into the Alaffia brand from its inception in 1996, and we got an inside look at how that approach continues to drive the brand today.
Lanaia Edwards, Alaffia's VP of Global Marketing
More than ever before, our community wants to know who is behind the brands they purchase their curly hair products from. Can you tell us about Alaffia’s founder and who owns Alaffia?
Edwards: “Our Founder & CEO Olowo-n’djo Tchala’s journey is quite extraordinary and inspiring! He grew up in Togo, West Africa, sharing a small room with his mother and seven siblings. After dropping out of school in sixth grade to help support his family through farming and collecting shea nuts, he witnessed the unfair systems that the women around him faced when trading valuable indigenous resources. After completing his GED and college degree stateside, he returned to Togo to put projects in place to create a more sustainable and equitable future for communities throughout the country.
“Olowo-n’djo founded Alaffia with Prairie Rose Hyde in 2003. He met Rose in his home village of Kaboli, Togo in 1996 where she was invited to serve as an environmental volunteer in the Peace Corp. From the beginning, the two shared a desire to positively impact humankind. They returned to the US determined to make a difference in West Africa. In 2004, armed with his understanding of the value of indigenous West African resources and an understanding of sustainable business ideologies, he launched Alaffia's ﬁrst collective.
“Since the Alaffia cooperative was founded, Olowo-n'djo’s mother, Ina, the inspiration for Alaffia, guided him in how to manage a women-led organization in a traditional setting. Ina helped him understand the importance of our cultural heritage, and it is this heritage that Alaffia preserves with traditional recipes and methods as well as handcrafting indigenous ingredients. She also made sure that the Alaffia Village Cooperative was inclusive to all of Togo’s 42 different ethnic groups. Ina embodied a selfless existence that guides me as we continue our mission to alleviate poverty and gender inequality.”
How does your team measure success at Alaffia? It seems to go far beyond the sales of beauty products.
Edwards: “It’s all about people before profits. When Alaffia was founded 18 years ago, the decision was made to always measure success based on our social impact, not dollars. As time was of the essence, empowerment projects were created that provided immediate impact to help people work, attend school and receive health care. We continue to see the positive impact on the West African people, which has been made possible through the support of our amazing Alaffia community and partners.”
Can you share more about the Maternal Care Empowerment Project?
Edwards: “Supporting motherhood and family is a core value of ours. Unfortunately, there’s a dire need for maternal care for women of color in marginalized communities. If we give more women access to proper prenatal care, fewer children grow up as orphans. Uplifting women is key to alleviating generational poverty. By gaining knowledge the women gain a feeling of self-worth. This lifts up the next generation and gives them a chance to progress beyond those before them. The project assists in all aspects of maternal care services and education, from pre-natal to post-pregnancy care. Since 2006, Alaffia has helped fund safe births in Togo, West Africa, and to date has helped over 6,500 women.”
How does the sale of products like the new Beautiful Curls line impact Alaffia’s Empowerment Projects, specifically Beautiful Arrival?
Edwards: “Our Alaffia Empowerment Projects are what keep us going! These projects are our mission in action, funded by the sale of our products. This allows Togolese communities to provide their skills and knowledge to the rest of the world and rise out of poverty. Our drive is to empower West African women to support themselves and their families in sustainable ways while advancing gender equality. Facilitating access to the global trade market through the fair trade of indigenous resources and community empowerment projects is a successful way of achieving this.
“Our empowerment projects in West Africa have positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people through Maternal Health, Eyeglass Distribution, Reforestation, Regenerative Agriculture and Education (including building schools, providing school supplies, bicycles for students).
“We expanded our maternal care stateside given the need for access in so many communities. According to the CDC, the maternal death rate in the US for black women is more than double that of white women. For Hispanic women in the US, it is more than 3X. Even in states with the lowest pregnancy mortality rate ratio and among women with higher levels of education, significant differences persist. Factors leading to mortality rates are usually a combination of institutional racism as well as black women's increased susceptibility to certain health conditions and lack of access.
“5% of Beautiful Curls purchases are donated to Beautiful Arrival, our new project that helps provide maternal care to women in marginalized communities in the U.S. Alaffia and Beautiful Arrival are partnering with SisterSong, an Atlanta-based national organization that works to improve institutional policies and systems that positively impact maternal health care for women of color.”
What are your goals for Beautiful Arrival and your new partnership with SisterSong?
Edwards: “Our goal is ensure that all women receive access to services and support for safe and healthy birth throughout all aspects of her pregnancy and birth. SisterSong’s advocacy and leadership are instrumental in facilitating awareness and resources.”
We love featuring the Leaders in Curl who are shaping the hair care industry! At NaturallyCurly we’ve been working to redefine this space through education and empowerment for women with textured hair. How do you see Alaffia redefining the hair care industry?
Edwards: “Alaffia is redefining the industry by showing that a social enterprise model works. We’re built on the philosophy of ‘going beyond fair trade’—paying a fair local price or wage, offering equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmentally sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability and reducing the number of middlemen from supplier to consumer.
“We handcraft indigenous raw materials in traditional ways at our Alaffia Village Co-op to preserve culture and assure the efficacy of the ingredients, such as unrefined shea butter, coconut oil, neem extract, baobab oil and African black soap. Products are then finished at our U.S. headquarters in Olympia, WA. Proceeds from the sale of our collections are returned to communities to fund community empowerment and gender equality projects.
“We’re so proud of our Beautiful Curls Collection which is super luxurious and high-performance, without all the synthetic ingredients. It’s formulated to work well for all types of waves, curls and coils from type 2 hair to 4c hair, as well as for all styles. Beautiful Curls products don’t contain sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, synthetic fragrance and artificial colors. The collection is cruelty-free and plant-based. Each product is formulated with aqueous extracts, which makes even the water efficacious and beneficial to hair and scalp. Using Alaffia’s reverse osmosis water system, purified water is infused with botanicals such as yarrow, comfrey, arnica, calendula and chamomile.”
As a Leader in Curl, do you have any advice for brands and entrepreneurs who are just getting their start who want to build social impact into their business model?
Edwards: “Assess and answer the call on how you can strengthen your community through employment opportunities and programs that ‘prime the pump.’ When you invest back into your community through providing opportunities that help people work and have better access to important resources, you’re lifting up an entire community. You can be the catalyst for great change.”
This post is sponsored by Alaffia.