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Supplier Stories: How Alaffia Soap Helps Alleviate Poverty in West Africa

In our new Supplier Stories series, we’re featuring our wonderful suppliers! So many of them have special stories, from women entrepreneurs to family farms to mission-driven folks who want to make a difference. Some are local—only available in a couple of stores—while others are growing along with us. Follow along as we share their tales.

A young couple with humble beginnings (one of Washington, one of West Africa) built a women’s cooperative that became one of the most successful fair trade body care businesses in the world. But before all that, they fell in love…

…and by “they,” we’re talking Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Prairie Rose Hyde, founders of Alaffia — a pair who grew up worlds apart, but managed to find each other and a shared mission of using handmade soaps to help save West African women from extreme poverty by giving them opportunities for fair pay and fulfilling work at one of the company's six cooperatives.

A Chance Encounter

In 1996, Rose joined the Peace Corps and eventually found herself in Olowo-n’djo’s hometown in Togo. There, they met and fell in love — and after her service ended, they both moved to the United States with one goal: to alleviate poverty in West Africa.

After all, they’d both seen first-hand the toll it took on the people (and particularly the women) of Togo, Rose as a devoted volunteer and Olowo-n’djo as a lifelong resident.

One Dream, One Plan and a Small Business Loan

The couple created a business plan and applied for a $50,000 loan to jumpstart their dream. After that, Olowo-n’djo went back to Togo to set up a women’s cooperative that would later become Alaffia.

More than 13 years later, Alaffia operates a 102,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Olympia, Washington, with a team of more than 100 employees. In Togo, it’s the second-largest employer (behind the government of Central Togo), with 700 women hand-crafting Alaffia’s products from six diverse cooperatives.

Empowerment in Many Forms

Beyond helping women find purpose through working at the co-ops, Alaffia has also impacted areas of maternal health, education, reforestation, eye care and female genital mutilation. Read about their many empowerment projects here — and know that every purchase you make impacts someone across the world.

Someone like Mazalo Kao, from the Alaffia shea butter cooperative:

“Personally, for me, the person I was when I started is not who I am today,” she says. “When I started I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have anything at all…but when I started with Alaffia, year by year, I saw changes. I really saw progress.”

You can read many of those inspiring stories and photos by following Alaffia on Instagram, and here’s Olowo-n’djo himself speaking about what it means to empower women across the world:

“These women have something to offer the whole world, and once you feel that you matter, and that you’re alive, then you can do so much more.” – Olowo-n’djo Tchala

Most known for their African black soap and shea/coconut combos, Alaffia’s craftswomen blend plant-based ingredients (including trending ones like reishi mushroom and turmeric) into bar soaps, skincare and hair products. Find them in all Whole Foods Market stores in the U.S.

*Valid 9/15 - 9/17/17. While supplies last. Not valid at Whole Foods Market 365™ stores. U.S. only. No rain checks. Excludes packs of soap.