Supplier Spotlight: Baraka Shea Butter

At Upfront Cosmetics, we partner with a number of suppliers to source the raw materials that go into our bars. Quality is important, as well as the knowledge that the people responsible for sourcing our ingredients are treated fairly. This week we’d like to shine a spotlight on one company that we work with that does something pretty special: the Baraka Shea Company.

Firstly, I’ll take a moment to explain where Shea butter (Butyrospermum Parkiicomes from, and why we couldn’t make our bars without it. Shea butter comes from, as you might expect, the Shea tree. The Shea tree is indigenous to the Savannah belt in Africa, across 21 countries. While the fruit the tree produces doesn’t have very much meat, the seeds within are the real treasure. These seeds are filled with rich oils that when extracted, have multiple uses. In the West, we mainly use the rich, luxurious butter as an emollient in cosmetics, to give products moisturizing power. In Africa however, the locals have been using it for a variety or purposes for centuries. Firstly, Shea butter is considered a food staple, used as a cooking oil in many dishes. Because of its high fat content, it’s also commonly used in candle making as well as a waterproofing wax. And, just as in the West, it’s use as a hairdressing staple cannot be denied. So it’s no surprise Shea butter can be found in every one of our bars. But what makes our Shea stand out from the crowd?

Baraka Shea Butter was founded by husband and wife team Wayne Dunn and Gifty Serbeh-Dunn, who is Ghanaian/Canadian. In starting their business they had but one goal in mind: to bring pure, unrefined Shea butter to North America and the world in a way that connects and benefits the every person involved in the process; from the women who make it, to the businesses that produce products with it, all the way to the customers who use those products. Wayne Dunn once said, “I have always believed that business can and should be a force for social good, as well as being a vehicle for profit and personal fulfillment.”

Baraka means “thank you” in Wali, a Ghanaian language with approximately one hundred and forty thousand speakers in north-western Ghana, where Baraka Shea Butter is sourced. It’s the women of Ghana that make up the workforce of Baraka. Years of living on the edge of the Sahara has made these women experts in protecting their skin from the sun, sand and heat. Using the same centuries-old methods, handed down over countless generations, the women expertly extract the oils from the Shea nut, and turn those oils into butter. The entire process is done by hand, rather than by harsh industrial processes, with no chemicals or additives. Baraka works with these women and their communities to be sure that the Shea butter is harvested in a sustainable way that isn’t damaging to the environment. 

Baraka Shea butter is a fair trade product, which means that every single person involved in its production is paid a fair wage for their labour and expertise. In fact, Baraka actually pays its workers above market value for its Shea butter. The company seeks to enrich the lives of local women specifically, who otherwise may not have otherwise had such an opportunity to become financially self-sufficient.  In addition to paying a fair wage, the women meet annually with the company to review their relationship and whether or not they have been treated fairly, and decide whether or not to let Baraka use the Community Certified Fair Trade logo for the coming year.

Paying a fair wage isn’t the only way Baraka gives back to the community. Baraka works with Amina Yussef, a local development practitioner, to train the women’s groups on income generation activities. The women receive training on basic micro business strategy and economics, as well as how to make various products, like soap, that they can sell at the local market for additional income. Supporting education in the area is also a high priority, not just in training the women, but in supporting education for the children of the community. They partner with various charities to provide school uniforms and sports equipment to students, as well as with WaCa Development Partners, an NGO based in Northern Ghana to support tuition and other educational costs for girls in high school and post-secondary programs.

Besides investing in members of the community, environmental stewardship is also key in the company’s values. What this means is they work hand in hand with the community to harvest Shea in the traditional way rather than in an industrial manner, working hard to preserve the natural state of the landscape. “We try to organize our work, our activities and our lifestyles to tread as softly as we can on our planet.” Nothing from the plant is wasted; the Shea nut shells are used as cooking fuel rather than thrown out, and any residue left over from a batch of Shea butter is carefully collected to be used in the next batch. Rather than use every single seed in the butter-making process, up to 85% of the seeds that fall from the tree before being picked are left on the ground, so that they might grow into another tree.  Lack of economic options often forces families to cut down Shea Trees and make charcoal for cooking. Baraka is involved in education and awareness campaigns and, every kilogram of Baraka Shea Butter purchased puts money into the hands of hard-working women and families and incentivizes them to preserve the Shea Trees.

Baraka Shea Butter and Upfront Cosmetics share many of the same values: sustainable methods, a responsibility to the environment, women empowerment and community outreach. We couldn’t be more proud to partner with a company that values not just its profits, but cares deeply for the people all along the supply chain, and uses its influence to make the world a better place wherever it can.