Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview: Funlayo Alabi, Shea Queen

Funlayo Alabi is the co-owner of Shea Radiance (with her husband, so impressive) a fabulous company based in Baltimore, that works with communities in West Africa to import traditionally harvested shea butter (an Etta + Billie favorite). Not only do they sell this fabulous shea butter they also make luscious shea butter skin treats. Luckily, Funlayo was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the business of shea butter:

How did you start your business?

My business started more out out of a need for richer more emollient products. We had dry skin and the kids had eczema and we couldn't find any good products on the market.

We started using raw shea butter and saw a remarkable difference in our skin. We knew that there had to be a market for people who shared our need for a natural effective solution to dry skin, because our friends and family were raving about the samples we gave them.

What have been some of your biggest challenges with your business?

Finances. When you are involved in the shea butter supply chain at the level we are, there are a lot of upfront expenses. Working directly with shea producers in the early stages involves pre paying for the the nuts, providing storage facilities, bagging and boxing product and getting the product from the 'Farmgate' (point of production which is usually in the 'interior' country (village) where the shea trees grow and the butter is extracted) to the port.

We also do all our product manufacturing here in the states, so the expense of running a small scale manufacturing facility does require expense.

What have you been most proud of with your business?

I am most proud of the fact that we are positioned to be a company that will have a positive impact on the lives of women in Africa and in the US. The personal care business is a womans business on any levels. Our key ingredient, shea butter, is produced by women and 90% of the customers who buy our product are women.

What is your favorite product to create with shea butter?

The chocolate whipped butters. They look and smell so yummy. Like dessert for the skin. (these sound fantastic!)

What should consumers look for when sourcing fair trade shea butter from vendors?

The main thing I look for is a connection with local producers. Many of us who work directly with the women do not necessarily have all the finances to obtain 'Fair Trade' and/or Organic Certification. These are all very expensive for small businesses to obtain in addition to the fact tat they are taking on a lot of financial risk working on a grass roots level. What I look for is intent and progress and the mission of the vendor.

Check out a description of the processing with photos here.

Why should consumers choose fair trade?

Fairly Traded means that there is financial and social benefit to the local producers.

Do you have a favorite product that you don’t make yourself?

I love the rich organic soap bars produced by Botanical Skin Works. A local business here in Baltimore.

Thank you again Funlayo for sharing your story! Hopefully I can come along on a shea trip next year!


KaytiBear said...

I love shea radiance the quality comes through in everything they make. I am a fan of their whipped shea butter for the winter itchy skin and I really love her work ethic

Alana said...

Funlayo is an inspirational business owner and has incredible products. I am so happy I found her business!

Cameron Scott said...

Yep, she said it. Financing, together with additional capital and operating expenses, is one of the many challenges involved in starting and sustaining a small business. It isn't much of a difficult situation, really. And that's because there are a handful of ways to get business loans - loans that specifically work for small-scale outfits. The loan which can be used for spending and investing is relatively easy to get, all thanks to a number of available resources. But, as what we see in her business, it's really worth it!