Lanaia Edwards is the vice president of global marketing at Alaffia, a clean, plant-based and fair trade beauty and personal care brand on a mission to help alleviate poverty and advance gender equality in West Africa. She spoke with Drug Store News about the company and its goals.
Drug Store News: Tell us about Alaffia. How did the brand get its start and what does it mean to be a social enterprise?
Lanaia Edwards: Alaffia is much more than just a personal care brand. Everything we do is to empower communities in West Africa and around the globe. Growing up, our founder and CEO, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, witnessed women around him face injustices when trading valuable resources like shea nuts. Years later, he met Prairie Rose Hyde, a Peace Corps volunteer.
Together, they established women-led cooperatives in Togo to ensure fair wages for handcrafted ingredients like unrefined shea butter, African black soap and baobab oil. From there, they created Alaffia as it is today. The social enterprise aspect of our business is fueled by the Global Alliance for Community Empowerment, also known as the Alaffia Foundation. Our projects provide immediate, sustainable support in the areas of maternal care, job creation, education, reforestation and regenerative agriculture — funded by the sale of our products.
DSN: Alaffia is known for spanning categories with a breadth of products to address the needs of the entire family. How do the indigenous ingredients play a role in elevating your innovation?
LE: Alaffia curates our unique indigenous natural ingredients to address the spectrum of hair and skin care needs. We believe in these ingredients unapologetically. Our award-winning, comprehensive portfolio proves just how dynamic they are — we have successfully innovated in hair care, body care, bubble baths, facial skin care, and babies and kids’ care, without having to compromise results and values. And, we have avoided common synthetic ingredients for over 18 years — way before it was trendy.
DSN: The company has been at the forefront of textured hair for the last decade. How is Alaffia standing out in this space?
LE: Alaffia is answering the call for what is important to the textured hair consumer — clean products made for the individual needs of her curls by a Black-owned company. Our Beautiful Curls collection started out as Olowo-n’djo’s passion project to create products that would work beautifully for his daughters’ curls. It has since evolved into an inclusive assortment for all textures to naturally nourish, style and maintain. Of course, we leave out her non-negotiables — sulfates, silicones, parabens and phthalates.
Unrefined shea butter is our key ingredient, but we take our product efficacy up a notch with aqueous extracts, which is another way of saying water infused with botanicals. I know — water has a bad reputation with naturalistas. But, when it comes to aqueous extracts, you can think of it like soaking a teabag in hot water — after tea is absorbed, the water contains beneficial antioxidants it did not have before. By infusing our hair care in this way, it enhances the already nourishing and nutrient-rich formulations.
DSN: What is important to consumers when they are considering a new brand? How do you work with your retailers to drive this type of conversion?
LE: The last year has proven that consumers’ core beliefs are paramount to their identity as shoppers. If your values do not align with theirs, they will not consider purchasing. In my experience, it starts and ends with transparency. Alaffia drives that visibility right on our labels: ingredients, benefits and the direct impact of our Empowerment Projects.
We work with our retailers on signage to drive the messaging further in a way that resonates. Education does not stop at shelf — our robust social and paid media strategies capture the vibrancy of our mission and product to organically amplify emotional investment in the brand, drive retail awareness and, ultimately, conversion.