Alaffia is a black-owned, certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) aiming not only for environmental sustainability, but also social sustainability; specifically in Togo, Africa where they source their raw ingredients. The mission of the company can even be seen in their name Alaffia, which means “a state of peace, health, and well-being.” I am beyond impressed with Alaffia’s commitment to empowering African communities. They use the profits they make in order to give back to the communities that make their ingredients, focusing on prominent issues such as maternal care, building schools, providing school supplies and bicycles, planting trees to help mitigate soil erosion and improve food security, and even giving eyeglasses for the visually impaired! They create a wide range of products such as body lotions, soaps, hair care, and baby care using traditional African ingredients and methods. Most of their products are around a mid-range price, with this Everyday Shea body lotion costing 15 USD, which I believe is a fair price for the quality and sustainability of the product.
Overall, I think Alaffia is a great company that sells high quality, ethical products at an affordable price. Not only is Alaffia creating sustainable products for their consumers; they are also giving back to the communities that make their ingredients in order to improve the lives of people in sub-Saharan Africa as nature is a crucial aspect for these communities. In a video done by the founder, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, he states that he is “trying to show our communities in West Africa and our communities in America that it’s possible to use our traditional knowledge to create a healthy product without destroying ourselves.” Alaffia is setting an example to other companies that it IS POSSIBLE to live and produce goods sustainably, we just have to make that choice. I highly recommend this product if you are looking for a high-quality lotion that values the planet and the people living on it.
This particular product is made from unrefined “raw” shea butter from native shea trees in Africa. One of the main initiatives of Alaffia is the use of indigenous ingredients in order to “celebrate cultural diversity in the global market and ensure Alaffia’s safe, nutrient-rich and efficacious products.” In a video made by Tchala, he states that Shea trees are wild trees, which do not need to be watered or fertilized, helping to preserve freshwater that would otherwise be used for plantations. Alaffia also consults with ethnobotanists (people who study how people from specific areas and cultures use indigenous plants) and pharmacognosists (people who study how products from natural molecules can be used to make medicines, food, and other consumer products) in order to ensure that their products are safe and ethical. I am very impressed by the transparency of this company and its ingredients. The majority of their products have a score of 1 by the EWG, with the worst score being a 5, and this body lotion being a 3. If you are not familiar with the EWG, it is the Environmental Working Group that rates products based on the health, transparency, and impact of its ingredients. They give a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. The main reason for the lower scores on some of their products is their use of fragrance as companies are not required to disclose what exactly that “fragrance” is. However, in the FAQ section, Alaffia actually addresses the types of fragrances they use and even put the specific type on the bottle. Alaffia also offers unscented versions of their products (this specific lotion is unscented). I really admire the brand’s commitment to transparency, even to ingredients they technically do not have to disclose. I also admire that they do offer unscented versions of their products for people who are sensitive to fragrance. Along with transparency, Alaffia ensures the quality of its ingredients through a lot of third party certifications and opinions, creating a sense of trust between the brand and the consumer. I feel it is important to note that some of the products are not vegan as they contain ingredients such as honey and goat’s milk, with this specific body lotion being vegan. However, they are cruelty-free and do not test on animals. Personally, I am open to using products containing ingredients derived from animals but I know many people are not comfortable with that, so I felt it was important to mention. Alaffia is very transparent about the ingredients used in their products, so a consumer is able to avoid animal products if they are looking for strictly vegan items.
Another aspect to consider is the packaging in which the product comes in. In the brand’s FAQ sections, they are very transparent about the packaging they use. Some of their packaging is made from completely recycled plastic, while others are made from HDPE that is 10% recycled and 90% virgin. They claim to mostly source their plastic from the US and make an effort to buy from local vendors in Olympia, Washington, where they have an Alaffia facility. I believe they could definitely do better in terms of packaging, especially since they already have packaging that is fully recycled plastic, but I do appreciate the transparency so consumers know what they are buying. In an interview with Tchala and the magazine Musings, he states that Alaffia is looking to shift to 100% recycled materials for their packaging, including pouches that can be repurposed and refillable packaging, so it is nice to see that they acknowledge this shortcoming and are actively working to do better with their packaging.
Looking through the brand’s FAQ section, they have so much information about their products, it can be a lot to sift through, but I would rather a brand have too much information than not enough! The founder of the company is from Togo himself, so he understands how deforestation is a huge problem for West African communities. This personal connection to Togo allows the company to empathize with the community and make a strong effort to preserve natural resources and avoid large plantations that plow over rainforests. Their use of traditional methods, the inclusion of ethnobotanists, and use of their profits to replant trees help to protect the Earth and its resources. The brand is Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified, ensuring consistent production and high-quality standards. I do wish the company would go more in-depth about what exactly these traditional methods entail and how they are more sustainable than typical methods used to create personal care products. Alaffia is very open to explaining the ingredients they use so I would like to see this translate more into their methods.
Something that I was concerned about when looking at the ingredients was the use of palm oil. Palm oil is one of the most used vegetable oils in the world and The Smithsonian Magazine states that “the palm oil industry is notorious for wiping out rainforests, displacing indigenous peoples, spewing carbon into the atmosphere, and driving the orangutan and other animals towards extinction.” Luckily, the brand’s FAQ section addresses this. In their section about palm oil, they explicitly state that Alaffia does not source their palm oil from large plantations, they instead source it from natural West African oil palm trees “grown and harvested by small-scale farmers in the Maritime region of Togo, from the town of Tsevie to Kpalime” and the oil is extracted by the brand’s “Fair Trade cooperative in Sokodé using traditional methods.” I appreciate the brand’s strong commitment to transparency, the environment, and humanity. They have so much information about their products, but I believe there is not enough information on how the products are made. Considering the sheer amount of information on their website, I don’t think it would be too hard for Alaffia to include information about their methods.
Alaffia is For Life certified by ECOCERT and many of their products are also Fair for Life certified. Initially, I was confused about the difference between the two, but looking on the Fair for Life website, Fair for Life is mainly for the product itself, while a For Life certification is for the company as a whole. A For Life certification ensures social responsibility along their supply chains, and a Fair for Life certification ensures producers in developing areas receive a living wage. One thing Alaffia does that I have not seen any other company do is actually state how much they pay for some materials and how much they pay their workers. They aim to alleviate poverty in Togo by paying their workers a fair living wage (4x the average family income in Togo), paying 15-25% above market price for their Shea nuts, and giving a lot of their profits back to the community through their social enterprise model.