Through her initiative, Mobola Sagoe has grown Shea Origin from a small business serving local companies, to an international powerhouse that has sown its success back into the Nigerian community, affording Nigerian women the power to create, manage and thrive at their own businesses. We take a look at the story behind Shea Origin, with insight from Mobola and the inspiration she lives by to this day.
According to market research company Fior Markets, the global shea butter industry will reach USD 3.82 billion by 2025. From small business owners, to West African companies exporting the raw product, thousands of brands worldwide have seen great success in the trading of either a finished product containing shea butter, or selling the nuts to companies for production. The recent surge in demand is predicted to be as a result of the rise in consumption of skincare and chocolate, and a commensurate increase in disposable income. One woman, Mobola Sagoe, has dedicated her career to the sustainable growth of this industry.
Since graduating from beauty school in 1985, the budding entrepreneur started her career as a beauty therapist in the United States and the United Kingdom. After honing her skills abroad, Mobola decided to return home to Nigeria in pursuit of a career in skincare. Upon her return, she opened a boutique spa in Lagos called La Feminic, and quickly realised that the industry had much to gain from skincare. “I realised that at that time in Nigeria, a lot of people were not accustomed to skincare routines. It proved to be a challenge to educate our market and get people interested in more extensive skincare,” comments Mobola. It was this realisation that led her to the decision of launching her own natural skincare line – Shea Origin. Since its inception in 2014, the brand has grown exponentially, and went from supplying clients at her boutique spa, to well-known hotel chains like BON Hotels.
The brand started off humbly, and Mobola sourced a laboratory in the UK to produce her skincare products. Through the beginning stage, she noted that shea butter had extensive benefits for the skin, but the quality of butter produced in Nigeria did not quite match other markets, like Ghana. After learning the craft of producing shea butter in Ghana, Mobola passed on this knowledge to local women in Nigeria, allowing her company – and the businesses of the women she trained – to produce and sell a higher grade of shea butter. Through the success of the initial training, the Nigerian government and the World Trade Organisation (in collaboration with the International Trade Centre), donated equipment to Mobola’s training centre and assisted with leasing land for the project.
Through the training centre, women in Nigeria who had already been processing shea butter, were now able to sell a higher quality product at better prices, and in turn improve the living conditions of themselves and their families. As it stands, Shea Origins now runs this training facility as an NGO called The Ifedawapo Co-operative Society. Over 1000 women have been trained at this centre, through weekly sessions, for which they receive grants by local governments and Shea Origin.
One very important factor that Mobola is now focused on, is sustainability: “Our trees grow naturally, and until now women have been sourcing product from their villages. As a result, many shea trees are being cut down, which has led us to investigating a more sustainable way of harvesting shea nuts. We are now in the process of growing plantations in order to resupply and regrow the trees cut down.”
With the global demand for the product skyrocketing, Mobola comments that hotel clients in particular put in large-scale orders and the same goes for their international clients. “We export raw shea butter to the US and the UK, and most of these international exports are for cosmetic use. In terms of hotels, we supply around ten BON Hotel properties in Nigeria. Each hotel, on average, orders 300 bottles of body wash, 240 bottles of shampoo and conditioner and 240 bottles of lotion every month,” says Mobola.
BON Hotels is an international company that manages hotels across Africa, and believes in working with local suppliers in all their regions. The BON Hotels’ philosophy is to add value to the community in which it serves. “At BON Hotels we believe in the survival of Africa by Africans and fully support businesses like Shea Origin, who focus on the empowerment of entrepreneurs,” says Paul Umoh, Executive Director, Operations at BON Hotel International West Africa. “Since establishing our relationship with Mobola in 2015, we now stock Shea Origin across many of our properties in Nigeria. The growth of Shea Origin and of its foundation empowering women is testament to what can be achieved through hard work and through the realisation of the potential that the unique shea tree brings to West Africa.”
News of the high quality Shea Origin products has travelled as far as Europe. An Italian company has recently visited the training centre to observe the workshops and processes conducted in Nigeria. Following a positive response, the company may now receive the stamp of approval for compliance by EU standards, which opens many more doors for not only Shea Origin, but the thousands of women who have been – and will in the future be – benefiting from this empowering initiative.