Our story actually starts with the lack of pure Shea Butter widely available in England. In spring 2016, whilst returning from my brother’s in Edmonton, I had to make a stop at the many shops littering the high-road to purchase some shea as our family supply had run out. I immediately noticed something very unusual about the stock available; they were either discoloured, flaky and almost pure white.
The worst batch had a brownish oil in the jar with congealed shea, and it was not melted shea either as the location of the tubs in the shop was far from the window and sunlight.
I immediately knew they were not pure and did not purchase. Waited till I got home and went to my local Ghanaian shop in Harlesden to acquire.
At this point I used to only use Shea I would purchase in Ghana on my annual visits, returning with a minimum of a kilo for personal and family use. Surplus portions would be sold ad-hoc to friends and family who expressed interest or were aware we had some.
It was not a business or even side hustle per say, because this is how the Black community largely operates, friends and family networks can even place orders before such trips to get stuff only available back home. It is a cultural thing.
The issue with this was, sometimes we run out of the shea before I could return for a visit, then we would be lucked out, like that day in 2016. Yet that experience was the silver lining to a dark cloud so to speak.
In Ghana later that year, in a casual conversation with my uncle, a certified horticulturist and botantist, I mentioned the issues of the additives to Shea that I found in the Diaspora. He then revealed a not so pleasant side to its trade. Due to crippling International Trade rules on African resources, profit margins were slim and sadly, some engaged in basically unscrupulous acts. Being the versatile plant extract it is, can easily mix in with a range of powders, ground up cassava and in some cases, harmful substances that would largely remain invisible to the naked eye but will increase volume and consequently, profit.
As a dedicated consumer of this beneficial cream since birth, the news worried me, but I also saw an opportunity. That we could work together to provide consumers in the Diaspora with a different and valued experience; one that would ensure they could finally experience the healing benefits of raw shea that was produced within the time-frame where its nutrients were still potent.
Through a lawyer friend, I was introduced to a lady based in the Northern Region of Ghana who invited me to come and meet producers there. It is how our partnership with TUNGEYITA, started. They were a 40 plus all-women co-operative running a small-scale factory in Tamale producing shea and other products using time-honoured means. Our agreement was simple and reciprocal – we paid them fairly as per their asking price and they only make our shea to order.
This was the only way we could ensure we could deliver on our Fresh promise to our clients and having this direct link also ensured accountability and transparency in product content.
Ghana’s fresh was born!
And we are immensely proud to have since then managed to expand our product range keeping to the same foundations and philosophy – of freshly acquired products free from any additives to the full benefit of the consumer and staying competitive even products of less quality – all possible because we identified and work with reliable producers on the ground.
Long may this mutually beneficial Eco cycle between grassroots producers and Diasporic consumers without self-serving middle-agents continue, that way both consumer and producer get the most value from their money and efforts respectively.