Let me tell you, every time I go online to buy me some goodies from this store I feel like a kid in a toy shop. My heart pounds with excitement, my eyes get big and glow, my mouth opens into a wide smile and I make all these funny little sounds of excitement, just like a 5-year-old. Yah, it’s pretty neat to watch!! I’m talking about Sheabutter Cottage, the most amazing place you can find to get natural hair ingredients to make your own concoctions or to buy natural, organic and vegan-friendly blends for your natural hair and skin. It’s a black owned company by Ghanaian entrepreneur Akua Wood who moved to England over 20 years ago. I had the pleasure to had a chit chat with this lovely lady and get to know a bit more about her and her company.
It was kinda of like meeting someone you admire, I had seen so many wonderful products she created that I was a bit in awe. We had exchanged a few emails before and we only talked through Skype (the wonders of modern technology), but still, I had some jitters in my stomach. These quickly dissipated as she greeted me with a kind and warm voice and we began talking.
Ethical & Award Winning Company
With SheaButter Cottage, you’ll get a strong ethical approach to business and responsibility when working with co-operative farmers in Africa, making sure they are paid a fair price for their work and donating a percentage of each sale to the producers. There is also the commitment to share business knowledge with these co-ops and their projects so that farmers, most living in harsh conditions can feel empowered to have their own businesses.
Mrs Akua herself shares that “I’ve lived through hardship in Ghana, but when you go to those areas you realise hardship in a different dimension altogether.” This is why she makes it her mission, outside of the work with the co-ops, to regularly go back to Africa to Ghana, Haiti or Uganda, and identify groups of people, children, schools, or communities she can help. She is at the moment working to put together some Crowdfunding, a project she says will be bigger than herself”, to help give access to water in a community, but she also has 3 other projects.
I can only guess that aside her great products, it’s this type of commitment to sourcing the best ingredients in an ethical manner and in helping others that won her the GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement Awards) award for Small Emerging Business and 3 AWE (African Women in Europe) awards for Innovative Person of the Year, Company of The Year and AWE Award.
Although grateful for the prizes and a social following of 40 thousand people, Akua doesn’t let all the praise go to her head and continues to focus on the quality of her services and products. Despite being open for 14 years and being a reference to many, Sheabutter Cottage is pretty much a small company and Akua herself has her hands on everything: “I do the designing, the marketing, the production of Cioccolatina [products], (…) I also manage my staff to pack the orders (…) for many years it was just me”.
Cioccolatina & SheaButter Cottage
All by herself is really how things started out, in Akua’s home kitchen concocting products for her dry skin which were then sold when a market opportunity was identified. Two years after that, Sheabutter Cottage opens its physical doors and is now selling natural ingredients, accessories, African tissues and also skin and hair products under the brand name Cioccolatina.
To a DIY’er and supporter of natural hair ingredients, a day spent in her shop (physical or online) is the equivalent of a day spent in a funfair. It’s like riding a rollercoaster, you’ll find yourself going from one product to another getting more and more excited making sounds like “Oooh”, “Wow”, “Hihihi”, “Aaahh” or “Woohoo” and often finding ingredients you didn’t even know about.
When we’re so used to having bigger or more commercial brands all following the same path when it come to using star ingredients in their product lines like argan or monoi oil, it is refreshing to see Akua use broccoli oil or bay leaf oil on her brand’s products or you having the opportunity to try new ingredients such as ucuuba, tucuma or combo butter for your concoctions. Or maybe some new oils like desert date oil, loofah oil, tigernut or touloucouna oil. Did you get your mind around all this!?! Amazing, isn’t it!
Akua says she likes exotic things, “We have so much potential around us, especially in Africa and we’re not tapping into that potential, I like tapping into those resources, even if it means I’m the only person selling that.” As you can see, Sheabutter Cottage doesn’t follow trends, it doesn’t run after anyone or any other brands. That is why you won’t find any specific hairline under Cioccolatina products. No, she likes to focus on the ingredients and how best they can be combined to complement and offer your skin or hair the best care. Also, according to her having a hairline would mean manufacturing and she wants “to keep a tight rein on what [she’s] making”.
Competition and Success
I believe that part of her success is on this attention to the ingredients since the doors to her shop are only open Monday through Friday from 9am-2pm. Having to care for a son and a daughter with special needs is one of the reasons this is so and is also one of the reasons why this venture started. So to answer my question on how does she manage to compete with others, she replied that “behind every business is a family, so as much as I can chase maybe success, money and what have you, I can’t neglect my role as a mother.” In trying to compete with others Akua avoids thinking too much about it at the risk of going crazy, instead, she focuses on her strengths and only takes the steps she can preferring “steady growth than a rapid growth” because the latter would mean having to neglect her family.
It’s small little things like your handwritten name on a thank you note when you receive your order (this is my case) or contacting a customer to see how she’s getting along with her new products that seem dictate the success of Sheabutter Cottage apart from all the awards she received and charitable work she does. Yes, you won’t find this type of service very often.
To me, it pretty much feels like she’s doing it all. She’s taking care of her family and doing something she loves while making money from it. Although this measure of success may be too small some or not big enough for some people for Akua Wood, success seems to be happening all on her terms while respecting the role she has in her family and her ambitions as an entrepreneur, a crafted balance I’d say, but all in all “Well done Akua. Congratulations!”
If you’re curious to know more about the products and ingredients you’ll find at SheaButter Cottage prepare yourself to visit the outskirts of London, Reading to be more specific, or go online and browse all the products but get ready to have your entire vocabulary limited to mumbling interjections of delight as you do so. Oh, and to all my subscribers there will be a nice little DISCOUNT waiting for you when you receive your newsletter this week! So, have a good shopping experience, you’ll have difficulty keeping your chopping chart empty, and don’t worry they ship worldwide.