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The Real Meaning Behind Fair Trade Haircare Products

We’ve heard about Fair Trade for coffee, but what does it fair trade have to do with hair products? Basically, Fair Trade is a social movement that demands workers in developing nations are paid a decent wage (and thus treated fairly) when cultivating ingredients that go into products we love. This is a growing trend in the hair industry, especially as ingredients continue to diversify and become more exotic-sounding with every launch. It’s important to consider what went into obtaining these ingredients, especially since we don’t want to contribute to an unfair system and use products that have been irresponsibly or unethically sourced. To get to know this trend closer, we spoke with a rep from SheaMoisture, a brand that is serious about using fair trade ingredients.

Fair Trade in the Haircare Industry

Fair Trade business practices promote “greater equity for marginalized producers and workers, as well as safe and healthy working conditions where workers have a voice in their running of their workplace and how raw materials are produced,” shares Emmet Dennis, the Chief Community Officer of Sundial Brands, which is the manufacturer of SheaMoisture. Fair Trade essentially prevents workers from being exploited for their labor and can also involve a sustainability component. Essentially, it’s how all brands should behave but unfortunately, only some do.

Emmet is quick to point out that a core SheaMoisture value is that commerce is the most direct way to build workers up, which is why the importance of Fair Trade cannot be stressed enough. “Only commerce can bring true economic independence to our communities and empower women, like our Grandmother Sofi, to break the cycles of poverty,” he shares, referring to his grandmother Sofi Tucker. Tucker sold Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade skin and hair products after becoming a widow at age 19; she traveled throughout Sierra Leone selling her goods.

“It’s also important to us that we preserve time-honored ways of gathering and producing our key ingredients like Shea butter, African black soap and other raw materials – making our products with ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients in culturally authentic ways,” he continues.

(Image via Shea Moisture: Fair trade worker at a co-op in Ghana)

Responsibly Sourced Ingredients

If you know SheaMoisture, you know that the line basically revolves around Shea butter (hence the name). This Shea butter comes from 15 women’s co-ops in Northern Ghana that the brand sponsors—also investing in female entrepreneurs in the co-op. As Emmet explains, “When we invest in women’s Shea butter cooperatives in Ghana, we don’t just buy their products — we help them develop self-sustaining businesses.”

In this case, a Fair Trade relationship is felt directly—all of the women who work in the co-ops are paid an ethical wage that contributes to their overall quality of life. “The women we work with in Ghana become our partners, not just our suppliers, and with their rise in income, they experience greater health, access to education and the benefits of financial stability. In West Africa, we have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, education and training,” Emmet continues.

(Image via Shea Moisture)

A Fair Trade Mission and More

Although, this is where the Fair Trade chain technically ends, SheaMoisture also gives back to women of color right here in the US, investing in programs that will help WoC develop entrepreneurial skill and scholarship. “Data shows that women of color entrepreneurs have the least chances of getting access to capital, and we’ve continually heard from women around the country who are facing this challenge. So, we wanted to do something about it. The driving philosophy behind this is that our Community Commerce purpose-driven model doesn’t just empower communities – it’s purposefully structured to create generational wealth in traditionally underserved and under-resourced communities of color,” he explains.

(Image via Shea Moisture: A brand rep is pictured with women from a co-op in Ghana)

Fair Trade should be about more than guaranteeing a living wage; it’s about considering underprivileged communities and the treatment and human rights of people around the world, as well as the sustainability of the ingredients. “We believe that companies have the responsibility to go beyond formal programs and ‘checking boxes’ to ensuring that they have broader, comprehensive business practices focused on driving economic sustainability and ending generational cycles of poverty in the communities where they do business and in their supply chains,” Emmet notes on pushing for ethical business practices.

Seeking out products that are sourced through Fair Trade is on par with buying those that are sustainable. “It’s important to buy Fair Trade to support companies who care about the rights of workers who produce the ingredients in the products, as well as the sustainability of precious raw materials. This support enables companies to continue to ethically source ingredients and encourages other brands to do the same,” replies Emmet, when we ask why we should always opt for Fair Trade.

Ultimately, when a brand does well, they should give back to the community and the land that has allowed them to do so. “We believe that as we get ahead, we are each obligated to help provide access and opportunities that empower others to create economic sustainability for themselves, their families and their communities, and we do that via commerce,” says Emmet. “This is our business model. This is how we have done business for almost three decades, and this will be the legacy for our company,” he explains of SheaMoisture.


Your shampoo and conditioner should be sourced and made from only the best. HERE’s what you need to avoid.

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