Spell meets Valerie Obaze, the CEO and Founder of R&R Luxury, the hottest new skincare brand that’s bringing Africa’s best kept beauty secret to the masses. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about shea butter…
Tell us why shea butter is such an incredible skincare and haircare ingredient? Shea, or Nku as its known in Ghana, has been popular in natural remedies for centuries, it’s the secret to ageless skin. I remember as a child whenever I would fall over and get a graze, Nku was always the answer! The wonder ingredient is high in fatty acids, it softens the skin – locking in moisture and is also high in antioxidant vitamins A and E which provides anti-ageing benefits for all types of skin. In some parts of West Africa, it is custom that when a new baby is born the child’s grandma gives them their first bath and then moisturises their skin with shea butter. My husband’s mother did this for my first-born daughter and it is said that this will set the baby up for life with good skin.
Why does it deserve hype?
When you purchase any product with shea butter in the ingredients, you are supporting women in the rural areas throughout the shea belt which runs across the African Savannah, stretching from West to East. Handcrafted shea is exclusively farmed and processed by women and at R&R Luxury, we do all we can to support these amazing women. As it currently stands, the shea butter that we use in our product formulations is processed by a women’s co-operative in Ghana. Our manufacturer provides the co-operative societies with loans, credit facilities and quality control expertise. This initiative has, in the medium term, alleviated poverty amongst rural women in Ghana and in the long term provided employment opportunities for rural women and young people. This year we began construction on our own processing centre that will employ 50 rural women, where we will be paying them above the national average, meaning they can get out of the poverty trap and begin to have savings, enabling them to empower the next generation.
You are one of the few companies to source, manufacturer and sell in Africa, why is this so important? Also how does this differ from other brands?
It’s important to me because Africa has a booming youth population – it will be the largest in the world by 2050 and as an entrepreneur and business owner, I see it as my duty to help create employment opportunities for this new generation. By manufacturing, sourcing and selling in Africa we keep our supply chain tight and help grow the economy and empower local communities by providing employment. We’re very proud to be able to give back and provide support to the community around us. Many other brands that use shea butter in their formulations purchase the shea within Africa and then take it, in its raw format, out of the continent to be processed elsewhere. Many also use just a tiny amount of the ingredient in their formulations however, at R&R we truly believe in the power of shea and the amazing benefits it has as a stand-alone ingredient, so we let it shine by making it the core ingredient in most of our formulations.
How can consumers tell if natural African ingredients are ethically sourced? What should they look out for?
Consumers can conduct background research on the brand that they chose to purchase from to check whether or not their ingredients are ethically sourced and produced. Many brands buying shea will be purchasing from cooperatives, as we do at R&R, and these cooperatives in their nature are ethical suppliers that pay the women processors a fair wage and provide them with support, training and financial literacy.
Why do you think plant-based skincare that harnesses ingredients such as shea is having such a moment?
People are recognising the importance of using clean, natural ingredients not only on their skin but also in their food. What you put on your skin is just as important as what you put in your body as many skincare products penetrate the skin which means it can flow into the blood stream. The shift towards natural products is great as people look towards sustainability – consumers are now more conscious and actually take the time to look at the ingredient list – our products typically have less than 5 per product. There are also so many plant-based skincare brands to choose from now which wasn’t the case 10 years ago.
How long have you used shea butter and African based skincare?
As a child, my mother always used shea butter on my skin. However, as I got older, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the raw hard block in which shea butter was presented and found it time consuming to break it down into a ‘useable’ format. When I discovered that shea was available in an oil format – it changed my life and that’s where the idea for R&R Luxury started!
Aside from the beauty benefits, why is important to you that beauty consumers understand the brilliance of African sourced products? At R&R Luxury, we create products that are simple but effective – they include natural, African ingredients which have been tried and tested for centuries. It’s important for me that people get to experience just how beneficial these products are and to shine a positive light on the continent and the wonderful natural resources we have. Shea butter and black soap are Africa’s ancient beauty secrets for ageless skin, and they work!
How difficult is it to set up and run a successful skincare company?
My career background is in PR and marketing so setting up a skincare company was totally new to me. I had to learn about formulations, label requirements, the relevant certification and I still learn something new every day. After using shea oil myself and seeing the amazing benefits it provided my skin, my daughter’s skin and my husband’s skin, I could see the great potential it had and knew that everyone else would love this ‘liquid gold’ (as some customers refer to it). It hasn’t been easy, but I am passionate about empowering women, giving back to the community and sharing the beautiful raw materials we have in Africa with the rest of the world. I have enjoyed the journey growing the brand and can’t wait to see where we are 10 years from now!