Meet Akua Wood of natural product brand Sheabutter Cottage

1 I first came across your business many years ago on Aromantics, a website that specialises in selling natural products and you were listed in their directory, I understand that is when you were starting your business Shebutter Cottage?
That was over 13 years ago! I met my husband few years earlier in Ghana, subsequently moved to the UK and got an office job. I decided to be a full-time mum with the arrival of our daughter. I liked the idea of starting a business that would be flexible around my family's needs. The business started in my home in the cloakroom with an old DOS style computer. The cloakroom was really cold and I had boxes everywhere, it got to the stage when we expanded I had to get premises elsewhere to house the business based in Reading.

2 Did you get training on making your products?
It was all self taught, I researched a lot and experimented in my kitchen.

3 Describe the light bulb moment in your life that made you start your business?
When I was young I remembered that my dad used to concoct skincare stuff at home. That is what inspired me to make my own products for my skin because I found that the UK weather really made it dry. I knew about unrefined shea butter and all it's benefits but at that time only refined was available. I eventually sourced the unrefined shea butter.  All the other necessary ingredients were only available in minimum quantities of 25 Kilograms which was too much for me to use personally, so I decided to start selling the excess.

4 The concept of using just natural products for the skin was not widely popular back then, how easy was it to research and source your natural ingredients?
I actually grew up with this in Africa, I am biased towards Africa, especially Ghana where I was born. We are spoilt for choice with all the natural products at our finger tips.


5 Describe your journey, did you have a business plan with your stated goals or you went right into it?
I do have a business plan but stubbornly very flexible with it. You need to be in business.

6 How do you ensure your business trades fairly?
What we do is that some of the profits of the business go back supporting the co-operatives (co-ops) we purchase from with finance, covering some of their bills and medical insurance. We also provide advice and coaching, for example of the different grades of shea butter and the levels in pricing. Even though there can be a language barrier the message is conveyed.

7 Describe your lowest point when you first started your business and how did you overcome it?
One of the reasons I agreed to this interview is because I want people to understand that hard work and being patient is key to a successful business. I started the business without a loan or funding, I bootstrapped, so it was a slow process. I invested a lot of time and spare cash but the biggest challenge was stock management, the shelf life of freshly made natural products is short. What got me through was being focused, driven and the wonderful customers who gave me feedback that the products were working for them. It was such a gift.

8 and your high point?
As mentioned before the customers are one of my high points, I have two. I like to attend the smaller intimate events which provide us with the opportunity to interact with customers and get to know how well a product has worked for them. We also discovered that quite a number of customers found out about us through word of mouth which is priceless.

My other high point was the opportunity to meet Vele a young boy from Swaziland with down syndrome whom we had been supporting with education.

9 What would you say are your strengths that motivate you to make your business the continual success that it is?
I have been in business for so long, over 13 years! I have preferred steady growth because I want the flexibility to look after my disabled daughter. The mainstay of our business being ethical, sustainable and trading fairly would virtually be impossible to maintain with vast expansion.

10 Would you say you an Social Entrepreneur?
Yes, I actually do call myself a socialpreneur!

11 Are there any future developments you would like to let Pantoufle readers know about?

I am working on a field report investigating the co-ops we are going to assist in Ghana, the areas we are looking at are:

- Supporting children of the co-op members, by sponsoring their school uniforms, books and shoes.
- Provide funding (either through self funding or crowd funding) for a drying platform for shea co-op.
- Provide support to villages by showing them how they can make an income from their surroundings.

12 What tips would you like to give budding entrepreneurs out there?
Have patience and persevere, the return on your investment will take a while, so plan for it.

13 Tell us about the awards you've won.
I've won five in total, Aspire Magazine Business Woman of the Year Award, 3 African Women in Europe Awards and the GUBA (Ghana UK Based achievement award) for best up and coming business.

Company information

Sheabutter Cottage

Ethical*Fair Trade*Sustainable

Founder: Akua Wood

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Image copyright ©Akua Wood and ©Sheabutter Cottage

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