One of Embrace the Struggle’s goals is to shed light on causes and individuals, especially women, who are making a difference in communities throughout the world. Last year we spoke to Rosie Hodge-Adams of Children of the Caribbean and Carline Brice of HavServe, both of whom continue to spearhead great nonprofit work on islands such as Haiti, Trinidad, Barbados, and Saint Lucia.
Today Funlayo Alabi of Shea Radiance (shown here with her husband, Shola) shares some of the great strides their company has made and how it has benefited women in Nigeria. You can listen to the whole interview here, and you can read it in its entirety here.
What’s more, Shea Radiance is giving away $75 worth of its skin and hair products this week in tandem with this interview! To enter the giveaway, like Shea Radiance’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @shearadiance, and include the sentence “I love #shearadiance and #embracethestruggle.” Believe me, the goodies are so worth it!
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Alison: What was the genesis of Shea Radiance?
Funlayo: Well, it didn’t start as a business; it was just concerned parents trying to find a natural alternative for the children’s eczema-prone skin. We got tired of buying prescription medication; we just didn’t feel that it was the best thing for the kids. And so we remembered that there was a natural-based emollient that we used growing up, and we asked my mom to bring some. That emollient was shea butter. We used it on the kids and on ourselves, and the difference in our skin was amazing!
Alison: Talk a little bit about where you source your products in Africa.
Funlayo: There wasn’t enough credible information about shea, so we partnered with USAID’s West African trade hub, and we made some trips to northern Nigeria to the shea parklands, just to see how it grew, how it was processed. What really impacted us were the lives of the women who were harvesting the nuts, bringing it back into their villages and processing it into butter. There was a lot of shea but there were also a lot of women trying to find a market for their finished product in order to make a living.
The women said that their biggest challenge was finding people to buy the product. My husband and I decided that we not only wanted to provide a link to the West, but we wanted to partner with these women and buy their product on a consistent basis for use in our own production.
A percentage of profits, after all the expenses are taken care of, we share it. Prior to even getting to the point of profitability, we had to do a lot of investment in these communities, even though we were buying from them.
Alison: What’s been the response among the women as Shea Radiance has expanded?
Funlayo: We had an opportunity to go back to Nigeria in March, when we were teaching women in the city how to make finished products. The women had some incredible things to say. They talked about the kind of income they were making and how they were able to educate and provide for their children. But even beyond that, they have the opportunity to leverage the connection they have developed with Shea Radiance.
Alison: You guys started out in your basement. Now you have your own warehouse and you’ve had tremendous opportunities for growth. Talk about your biggest challenges so far.
Funlayo: You know, even when God is opening the doors and you are going where you believe that He wants you to go, it doesn’t come without resistance and without a price. This business is bigger than us, and it’s not about us. And it’s something that we believe that God can use to change nations and communities.
So, what has that done for us? It’s made us more prayerful, more humble, and more aware of our dependence on God. This is a tool in God’s hand for Him to use the way He wants.
Alison: I’m curious to hear about the opportunity last year to work with Target.
Funlayo: When we started doing natural products for our kids, it was around the time I went natural. Everything about your life becomes more holistic. So, we started with the body. Hair was a natural next step.
The line was in development for almost three years, and then we launched in late 2011. Target had had a lot of success bringing some smaller, indie brands into their stores for natural hair products. So Target was looking to expand that category. They saw the product line, they liked it, and they brought in some of our hair care products to a limited number of stores.
Alison: Do you see yourself as an empowerer of women?
Funlayo: I do. It’s always been my passion to uplift people, especially people who are marginalized. And so, when you go into the communities where we source the shea, you will see beautiful women who are just looking for opportunity, who want the same thing that we want in our lives. And just because of the culture or where they are born, they don’t have access to these things. When you see that, you think: “How can I make a difference?”
On the other side of the Atlantic, we’re always struggling with our hair, our kids, our skin, and we wanted to create beautiful products that women can pamper themselves with. So it’s all about uplifting women and making them feel good.
Alison: In your promotional material, you use a lot of African proverbs. This one in particular spoke to me: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Who has gone with you for you to go far?
Funlayo: We have had a lot of support, and God continues to bring more people along the journey at different seasons in life to help us go the distance.
There are some things that, as a business owner, you’re not very good at but are necessary to keep the business going. Sometimes you don’t have the budget to employ someone to take that role, and that’s where other people step in for a nominal fee or just for the love of the product or the cause. And God uses that as a stepping stone for them to move into other things. When you’re weak along the way, they give you the boost. When they are weak and struggling in their journey, you encourage them, too.
Alison: How do you think your work with Shea Radiance and in Africa with the producers of the shea has changed your life story for the better?
Funlayo: When you are fortunate and you are allowed to see how you can add value to someone else’s life by just being and doing what you were created to do, it’s such an honor. There are times in the business that you get really tired, or you think things are not working, and then you remember that because God loves these women and He’s put that passion and desire in my heart to want to uplift the community, the cause is bigger than just you, and because it’s part of God’s plan, it has to succeed!