East African Shea Butter - Q&A with Amari Shea

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Amari Shea is a London based business that uses East African shea butter to create soaps, beard balms and more. Sales from Amari Shea are donated to local orphanages in Uganda. Learn more in part one of our interview with Spring box vendor Amari Shea.

How did Amari Shea get started?

Amari Shea actually started as an interest in research and helping orphanages in Uganda and Kenya. I thought to myself, let me help them directly by taking donations and giving them by hand personally to local people who need it. From there, I was taken around to different orphanages and regions. In some of those regions, I met farming families that harvest shea. They harvest shea twice a year.

I was interested in what they were doing because I never even knew that shea butter existed in East Africa. We’re so familiar with Ghanaian shea butter, [shea butter from] Nigeria or Burkina Faso. When I saw the shea in the East African region it was very different. It had a very different consistency and a whole different feel to it. These people were harvesting the shea but were not getting much for it. There were all these middle men coming in and taking [up] the stock and giving them very little. And I wanted to support them in the true definition of sustainability and fair trade.

This is how Amari Shea was born! It’s a local name. It’s a local word that means I love you. I’m working in the northern region - in Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan.That whole area is the Nile region. I started purchasing the shea butter through my own previous research on cosmetics and creams and what is actually good for us.I found that this shea butter was a very high quality. I started formulating my brands off that shea butter - [from] soaps, creams to shea butter beard balms and the raw shea itself for our skin tones.

Shea butter is now a recognised ingredient in literally everything. Now people see the benefits. But it’s something that we have been using for hundreds, if not thousands, of years on our skin.This literally is our go to natural product. Rather than going to products with chemicals and all kinds of other ingredients that are not good for our skin tone. It’s time for all of us to go back to shea.

What is the connection between Amari Shea and its orphanage work?

When I started buying directly from the local farms, I processed the shea there with the local people to ensure that it is organic and high grade. So the sales that I make here go back into donating into charities and schools [in Uganda]. There was one problem I found visiting these orphanages. They didn’t have any education facilities or schools inside. It was just a place to look after children. I was thinking you need to help educate them while they are being looked after, so when they get to academic age, that they at least have some kind of educational background so they can apply to go to school. [If not], sometimes they end up back on the street because they don’t qualify for higher education. One of the facilities was actually able to start a school with myself and The African Empowerment Hub. We managed to go in and provide school books, uniforms and a lot of stationary for them to learn. Now they’re actually doing really well. This is something that we wanted to put our funds back into. It was a success and we want to continue that.

How do you select orphanages to partner with?

They have to be registered obviously. They have to have high ethical values. They have to have an invested interest in the children that they look after. We can’t just go into any orphanage when we don’t know what’s going on. We have to do a full background check and make sure we do our due diligence before we actually supply any type of support. My friend runs The African Empowerment Hub. She does all the background checks and makes sure that the right orphanages are chosen that we can support.

What does it mean to be Black owned business?

As far as I am concerned, it’s a term that is used, but it’s standard. We’re supposed to be owning our own business naturally. It’s not just an idea, it's something that we should be doing as people, as naturally as we can. For example, every other community and nationality has their own businesses but they’re not classed as Asian owned businesses - they’re classed as businesses. What we’re doing should be classed as business because it’s something that we should be doing to support our own economic circulation.

For me owning a business that is black owned, it is a step in the right direction to teach by example. That we should be self sufficient. Learn a trade, learn a skill, find something that you love within yourself that you want to put out there. Things that you can make, if you see an opportunity and things that are good for your community to sell - take that opportunity and sell it. Especially for the younger generation. The way technology is now it allows you to literally do anything you want, within a day. You can set up a business in a day, you can get known in a day. It’s that quick with technology. So there’s no excuse to say that you can’t do it. All the resources are there.

If Black people want to run their own business they may need to look into their own backgrounds and their own history to see the origins of the things that they buy on a daily basis. They [may] see that these come from their own country. They need to go back to those sources and see how they can purchase and buy those things to sell. Otherwise they will be buying their own products from other people.

So a platform like this, like Afropop, is a wonder. Perfect example of black owned businesses not having to rely on other people for handouts and just getting on with it.

What have been Amari Shea’s greatest accomplishments and challenges?

I’d say it’s been [the] great response from people when they see the products. It’s something they’ve been looking for but never know where to find. It’s a relief for them to see that looking out for our own people’s health, skin care, hair care, etc. There are those of us for the love of what we do prepare these products. They are very appreciative of that.

The challenges have been trying sourcing the materials, sourcing the shea butter to make sure that it is authentic. Just to avoid going through any middle men [and] to avoid getting any cheap shea or people trying to scam or any type of nefarious agendas. That’s why I travel there myself and I make sure that we get it checked. That it’s authentic, that it’s been processed correctly, that it went through the correct filtering procedure, that it’s been graded correctly as organic [and] all impurities removed before I bring it for sale.

Any advice for up and coming entrepreneurs?

Do the research. Do thorough research. Make sure you do your due diligence on what you’re doing. Even if you have to ask people in the streets [ about your research]. If there is a product that you want to sell, go to the shops and look at the products on the shelves and the differences between the products. What stands out to you more and why does that stand out to you?

Like for instance with coffee, I also sell coffee, I spent six months researching coffee packaging. What kind of coffee packaging? Is it eco-friendly? Is it biodegradable? If it’s coffee, how long can it last within a particular package? What does a package have to have that allows it to last longer? What kind of packaging would stand out?

Branding is [also] one of the most important things I would say to someone who wants to do something themselves. Make sure that your branding is on point. Make sure that the labels are done right, spell checks and everything. Test the market, go to events. Start from small and keep a record of people’s responses, reactions and testimonials of the brand.

They [entrepreneurs] should not be scared to do it. Because everyone else is doing it. When you’re selling your brand you’re selling yourself. You are your brand. It’s how you portray that which determines whether your brand will be remembered.

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