Written by Grove Collaborative

Behind the brand with Alaffia's founder Olowo-n’djo Tchala.

Last Updated: June 24, 2021

Looking to create more just and equitable systems in his native West Africa, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, founder of personal care brand Alaffia, launched a company that not only produces clean, sustainable products but also is the start of a revolution.

When you purchase an Alaffia product, you're not just buying a bar or soap or bottle of shampoo. You’re investing in environmental health, economic justice, and gender equality as part of a quiet “revolution or movement,” as Olowo-n’djo Tchala calls it.

Who is the founder of Alaffia?

Hailing from a small village in Togo, West Africa, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, founder of Alaffia in 2003, was raised by a single mother and several older sisters (he’s one of 10 siblings). After witnessing first hand the lack of access to education, health care, and economic opportunities available to his mother, sisters, and countless other women and girls in West Africa, Tchala set out on his enterprising journey to not only create and sell products that honored the culture and heritage of his homeland, but that would also engage West African women and girls in the global market in an equitable way, in an effort to mitigate generation poverty.


“Equality to me comes down to economic equality, because I think that once we can have economic justice, then everything else could follow in some sense,” he said. “Those kinds of ideas and beliefs are what led to the establishment of Alaffia.”


Where is Alaffia based?

While Alaffia’s main focus is empowering communities in West Africa, the brand is based in Olympia, Washington.

Is Alaffia natural?

Yes, Alaffia’s products are made with simple, sustainable, “beyond organic” ingredients native to West Africa made with the highest efficacy standards.


And while he admits that his company is first and foremost a profitable enterprise, Tchala said that he sees Alaffia as “an engine of change, of revolution. And green is a part of that revolution.”


Finding economic equality through a green revolution looks like sourcing native, “beyond organic” ingredients — like Alaffia’s signature shea butter which is harvested from West Africa’s wildly abundant shea trees — in a sustainable way, while also using local artisans and traditional practices to create the brand’s personal care products.

What ingredients do Alaffia products use?

Actively involving the native community in the production of Alaffia products not only creates a sustainable, empowering cycle of economic freedom and stability, but also is a way to preserve West African culture.


“[Shea] is something that I saw that embodies our cultural knowledge. Cultural fabric is extremely important to me and our understanding on how we see the world, and how we engage with the world,” Tchala said. “I can see the artisan African culture in personal care … I want to preserve our culture. It couldn't just be any ingredient.”


And Alaffia’s commitment to preserving culture and heritage through the use of sustainable ingredients extends beyond shea. Most, if not all, of the brand’s product formulas stem from Togolese traditions while using just a handful of natural ingredients — an intentional choice, according to Tchala, who believes in practicing health through self-care, without the use of chemicals, while also paying homage to the “ancient way of doing things.”

Is Alaffia fair trade?

Alaffia is a certified For Life by Ecocert, demonstrating corporate social responsibility, so not only are ingredients sourced ethically, but communities on both continents (U.S. and Africa) are paid fair wages and provided safe working conditions.


Ultimately, though, Alaffia’s mission is to make a wide-reaching and lasting impact on West African communities one product at a time.


“I don't believe many people even using our product truly realize the impact that that product is creating in the communities,” said Tchala. “Today, it is impacting about 23,000 communities within West Africa”; which means more women have access to safe maternal health options, more young girls are receiving an education, and more West Africans are empowered through equitable economic means.”


Now that’s definitely worth buying some soap for.

Is Alaffia a nonprofit?

Alaffia is a for-profit enterprise; however, the brand has a nonprofit arm called The Alaffia Foundation (TAF). A percentage of every purchase goes directly to the foundation which in turn impacts several of Alaffia’s empowerment programs such as:


  • Maternal health: In an effort to reduce maternal death rates, TAF works with the Togolese health care system to fund pre- and postnatal care, as well as provide trainings on women’s health issues such as nutrition, preventing female genital mutilation, and more. And most recently, Alaffia has partnered with Sister Song, an advocacy organization that supports healthy births for women in marginalized U.S. communities, and launched the Beautiful Arrival program. Five percent of Beautiful Curls sales will be donated to this new program that directly impacts women in the U.S.
  • Education: TAF has built 16 schools and supplied 37,521 students with school supplies to make access to schooling available and less of a financial burden. The foundation also collects used bicycles from the U.S. before sending them to Togolese students, particularly girls, to use to get to school as part of the Bicycle for Education Empowerment Program.
  • Environmental sustainability: To mitigate deforestation and climate change’s impact on West African farming communities, TAF funds the planting of trees by Togolese farmers, hosts trainings discouraging cutting down shea trees for firewood and charcoal, and invests in sustainable fuel alternatives.
  • Eyeglasses: Since it is very difficult for the visually impared in Togo to afford eye exams and eyeglasses, Alaffia collects used glasses from U.S. retailers and hires Togolese optometrists to correctly fit and distribute them.
  • 3 gotta-have Alaffia products

    Alaffia’s founder walks us through some of his favorite bestsellers below.

    Splish splash

    A top seller, the Kids Bubble Bath comes in four soothing scents and is made with only the safest, most natural ingredients that are safe for your kiddos to soak in. Unrefined shea butter gently cleanses, moisturizes, and nourishes skin, while sulfate-free suds make bathtime fun.

    A green clean

    Perhaps Tchala’s favorite product, the Authentic African Black Soap Bar is made with two simple ingredients (fair trade, sustainably-sourced shea butter and palm kernel oil) and is likened to the home remedies of Togolese mothers. Use it on your body, face, and hair for gentle, clarifying power.

    Lip smacker

    The Everyday Coconut Vegan Lip Balm, which comes in three flavors, is packed with ultra-lush moisturization for super soft lips. Made from a short list of easy to pronounce ingredients, the real star of the show is the ethically-traded virgin coconut oil and cocoa butter.

    Shop more of Alaffia at Grove

    What is Grove Collaborative?


    At Grove, we take the guesswork out of which products are good for you and your home. Every product meets strict standards for being nontoxic, effective, sustainable, and cruelty-free. Once you find products you love, we ship to your home on a flexible, monthly schedule.


    Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

    If you're ready to make the transition to natural cleaning products, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials or natural beauty products to start shopping healthier products for you and the environment.

    Shop more from Grove

    Keep reading

    Join thousands of happy customers creating a healthier home. Get started to select your free welcome set!
    Claim My Offer