City Woman - Marking the end of Fairtrade FortnightBy Chine Mbubaegbu
March 04, 2009
How butter can spread a little hope.
To mark the end of Fairtrade Fortnight, which highlights the benefits of buying ethically-sourced products until Sunday, we speak to mum-of-two Akua Wood who has been offering fairly-traded shea butter cosmetics from her Sonning Farm business since 2002.
She explains to City Woman why it’s so important for her to support countries like her native Ghana – and beyond
Like many working mums, Akua Wood has enough on her plate to keep her busy.
But the selfless entrepreneur is using her unique ethical brand to help those far less fortunate than herself in the developing world.
As owner and founder of Sheabutter Cottage, Akua’s main aim is to introduce Reading folk to the world of 100 per cent fairly-traded beauty products and cosmetics.
Like many young women in West Africa, Akua grew up using natural products including unrefined shea butter.
It is a hugely versatile substance extracted from the fruit of the shea tree and is known for its moisturising properties as well as being edible.
It is only recently that globalisation has brought heavily-packaged and densely perfumed versions of the product to countries such as the UK – but for Akua, the more natural the better.
And natural products work as well for women in Reading as they do in Accra, Ghana, she says.
Akua, who met and married Scouser Neil 12 years ago before moving to the UK, is passionate about creating natural products.
The self-confessed ‘kitchen’ chemist has been making her own soaps and cosmetics for many years and launched her business, Sheabutter Cottage, in 2002 after she decided to make it available to a wider market.
But Sheabutter Cottage is far more than just a cosmetics business.
Through its international focus, it aims to trade fairly while raising the aspirations of those in less privileged countries.
She says: “We take great pride in sourcing quality ingredients directly from farmers or producers or through community projects.
“Fair trading is very important to me because I myself come from a developing country. I know what it’s like for them as I come from a farming background.
“My paternal grandmother was a cocoa farmer until her late 90s. I would rather go directly to a service if I can to get my items. I want to make sure the people get what is due to them.”
For 38-year-old Akua, helping others is the way she helps herself.
She is mum to an eight-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl who is mentally handicapped. Her daughter has no speech and has been diagnosed with ‘developmental delay’.
During the day when her daughter is at school, Akua busies herself with helping global communities from her office in Sonning Farm.
She says: “It’s difficult for me as a mum, but Sheabutter Cottage is a way of me being able to cope. I get my energy from doing it.
“I have been working since the age of 16 so if I were to stop now I would get bored. It’s a way of me surviving.”
Over the past few years, Akua has been involved in helping community projects in 45 different countries, including Nicaragua, Nigeria, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and Azerbaijan.
Sheabutter Cottage supports educational activities in developing countries as part of its Helping Hands programme, and sponsors disadvantaged children – especially those orphaned by Aids.
“I can’t be everywhere at the same time,” she says.
“But it’s important to interact with people and suppliers. I want to contribute as much as I can.
“I’m not rich or anything but I have been able to help other businesses throughout the world through micro-funding [in which money can be invested by third parties to help local communities financially].”
Akua’s goals for the future are simple. She says: “I just want to make it easier for everybody to get a pot of shea butter and I want to be able to help communities.”
As well as unrefined shea butter, Akua sources and sells other exotic butters, natural cosmetics and handmade beaded jewellery, under her AshantiGirl label.
What is shea butter?
- Shea butter has been used for generations as a natural moisturiser as well as a cooking oil in some parts of Africa
- Its natural moisturising properties mean it is widely used to combat the effects of the sun and ageing
- It is also known as an anti-inflamatory agent and is thought to be effective in the treatment of fading scars, chapped lips and stretchmarks
- Unrefined shea butter is not melted down; it is best applied after it has been warmed in the hands. It has a rich, creamy texture
- Sheabutter cottage’s unrefined shea butter is pure and unbleached, ethically sourced, non-deodorised and does not have any additives
For more information on Akua’s products, visit her websites www.sheabutter cottage.co.uk or www.akuawood.co.uk.