One of the smallest countries in Africa is the Togolese Republic, or Togo, a tropical nation of bustling villages and gradually rolling grasslands that’s home to more than 7.5 million people. Togo is bordered on the west by Ghana and on the south by the Gulf of Guinea, making it a hub of West African culture, industry, and art.
Many Togolese are poor, surviving on subsistence agriculture, and the lack of opportunity provides fertile ground for exploitation, particularly in the sex trade. But in the city of Sokodé, a lush, vibrant commercial and agricultural region in central Togo, there is reason for hope.
The Alaffia Artisan Center in Sokodé is a cooperative, fair-trade textile center offering work and rehabilitation for Togolese women determined to escape prostitution. The Center’s seamstresses make beautiful, one-of-a-kind bags, scarves, purses, and more from colorful, hand-printed African fabrics. Through the cooperative model, the items are then shipped to select markets in the West, including the Co-op.
Alaffia and the Power of Cooperatives for Human Rights
At the Co-op, we partner with cooperatives all over the world to bring fairly traded, ethically produced products to our shoppers. One of the most inspiring co-ops we’ve ever been lucky enough to discover is Alaffia.
Entrepreneur and activist Olowo-n’djo Tchala was a child in Togo when he watched his mother earn pennies collecting nuts from shea trees to sell to wealthy shea nut buyers for expensive skin-care products coveted by consumers in the West. Tchala had to drop out of school in 6th grade because his mother no longer could afford to send him.
Decades later, Tchala met a young Peace Corps volunteer from Washington state named Prairie Rose Hyde. The two would later marry and risk everything they had to form the Alaffia cooperative. Their idea was to use the resources West African women already had—the skills, knowledge and traditions of African craft work and natural shea butter production—to empower women, preserve indigenous culture, and produce a high-quality product.
Funded by the sales of Alaffia products, the cooperative reinvests profits in its communities. The goal is to alleviate poverty and encourage gender equality.
In 2014, Tchala and Rose converted an outgrown shea butter processing center into the Alaffia Artisan Center. Rose was a skilled seamstress and pattern designer, and the couple saw another opportunity to empower a disadvantaged group in the community. The Queen Alaffia line of products was born.
See these products for yourself! Look for beautiful Queen Alaffia scarves and bags in our stores now. To learn more about the Alaffia co-op, check out http://alaffia.com.