OLYMPIA, Wash. — One word hanging over the entrance of this factory in Olympia means many things.
"Alaffia means health and peace in the native language where I come from in Kambole, so when I greet you I say, 'Alaffia'” explained Olowo-n’djo Tchala.
Alaffia is also the name Tchala chose for the African-inspired beauty products he started making in Washington in 2003 using naturally processed shea butter from his native Togo. Back then he sold at local farmers markets.
Today you can find Alaffia all over the country, on the shelves of places like Whole Foods, Target, and Walmart.
But it's not enough for this entrepreneur to own a successful company. These moisturizing soaps and lotions have a devoted following — but they're more than a beauty brand.
“Do you see all these gray hairs?" Tchala laughed. "I don't think you can sit back and say we have done enough or be proud. I do believe that the model of Alaffia is the right model. The whole existence of Alaffia is to create community impact."
Impact like gender equity and cultural preservation — Alaffia buys shea butter from fair trade women's co-ops in Togo that harvest and process shea nuts by hand, just like it's been done for generations.
Impact like healthy babies and moms — Alaffia's Maternal Care Program has helped more than five thousand Togolese women and their children.
Impact like education - The company has built 15 schools in West Africa.
Impact like transportation — Alaffia collects used bikes from all over the Northwest and ships them to Africa.
"When I was grew up in Togo — I thought if I could have a bicycle, just a bicycle — that was your biggest dream,” explained Tchala as he gestured to the wealth of used bikes awaiting repurposing on another continent.
Already more than ten thousand bikes have gone to Togo, where they help kids get to school and women get to work.
Of course, Alaffia has a local impact too.
This colorful, sweet-smelling facility in Olympia provides more than one hundred and fifty local jobs.
“I don't think we could be standing here today here in Olympia, Washington without the support of the community in the Pacific Northwest so I just want to extend my love and my appreciation to the Pacific Northwest,” said Tchala, who settled here partially because wife and cofounder is from the Northwest.
You know that saying that beauty products offer 'hope in a jar'?
These shampoos, lotions, and soaps take that concept one step further — they're not just offering hope.
They're making real change in people's lives — from the Pacific Northwest to West Africa.
“I just don't think there's anything more to life than to be able to save and preserve and support other families' lives,” Tchala explained.