Mother, daughter grow shea butter business from Brooklyn home

A mother-daughter duo in Brooklyn is bringing high-quality shea butter to the United States, while also helping the women producing it, back in their native Ghana. In Africa, specifically in Ghana, shea butter is called "women's gold." It's primarily picked and produced by women and is often the only source of income they have. At Eu'Genia Shea in Brooklyn, it is also women's gold, and is a wonder product for hair and skin.

Eugenia Akuete says in Ghana they've always used shea butter for everything. So when she moved back to Ghana to care for her ailing mother in 1999, she decided it was time to bring some of that healing shea back to the U.S., selling the butter in bulk.

Eugenia started with about 36 Ghana cedis (about $30) worth of shea. She bought it at the market, repackaged it, brought it to the U.S. and sold it here, re-investing some of the profits in the women who produced it.

Eugenia says she wanted to reduce some of the drudgery and the back-breaking aspect of producing shea butter. So she brought in some basic machines to help with roasting and kneading. And that, she says, is how their business got started.

In 2013, Eugenia was diagnosed with colon cancer. In 2015, she got bacterial meningitis. So her daughter, Naa-Sakle Akuete, a Harvard Business School graduate, left her job at JP Morgan and jumped in. Naa-Sakle jokes that she basically does anything on the computer, and her mom does everything else.

Today, Eugenia is healthy and she and Naa-Sakle are running a multi-faceted shea business out of their Brooklyn home. They still sell the butter in bulk, but they also operate a direct-to-consumer brand called Eu'Genia Shea. It's a line of finished products, named for Eugenia Akuete, that delivers high-quality, high-concentration shea butter to consumers.

Naa-Sakle says all of their products have at least 95 percent shea content, and the other ingredients are super-natural. Their most complicated formula has about 5 ingredients.

Their Everyday Shea includes lavender and grapefruit scents and is now sold in Anthropologie stores, helping American women reap the benefits of shea butter. Naa-Sakle calls it a wonder product that she uses on her hair, face, and body. It has vitamins A, E, F, and K which help in everything from collagen production to skin cell regeneration, and also prevent wrinkles and inflammation.

That same shea butter is helping the women of Ghana live better lives. Naa-Sakle says they pay their pickers and workers about 20 percent more than the average prices and wages in their area. They also donate 15 percent of their profits back to their workers in the form of an education fund.