Those of us in Europe and the US have a real fascination with fancy soap. Companies like Lush have been taking the world by storm with their “all-natural” cleansing products. Being “natural” is what is in.
Well, turns out that this fact isn’t lost on Yasmeen H. Nsiah who realized a niche that needed to be filled in Ghana and possibly elsewhere in Africa. When I met her here at Maker Faire Africa, my initial questions were mostly about the local market because as silly as it may sound, when I started to think about it, I had no idea what Ghanaians bathing trends were. According to Yasmeen, most people buy rather cheap, heavily processed soaps that are usually Chinese-made. While they work for the most part, they aren’t the best for the skin or body overall. They are however quite cheap, running about $0.12-0.20 USD a bar.
Yasmeen (as well as others) has seen a need. People need better soap. Ghana has no end of natural, perfect ingredients such as shea oil and coconut oil to make soaps that, outside of Ghana, can cost upwards of $50 a kilogram. By being able to make use of them where they are actually produced takes advantage of the much lower cost of the raw materials which then translates in to creating a soap that while much more expensive at about $2.50 USD per bar, is a much higher level of product that is actually beneficial to the user.
Given how much more expensive Yasmeen’s soap are, one has to ask, is there a market for this? She says yes. People in Ghana appreciate the higher quality of the soaps. There is however an uphill battle in perception that will require a marketing campaign which includes helping people to make their own soap in order to understand the difference in product. She has even set up a shop in Accra where people can purchase supplies for soap making. It’s not something that people can do overnight though as each bar she creates takes three weeks to cure in the natural process that is devoid chemical additives or modifiers.
She has even bigger plans than Ghana-wide soap domination. She wants to work with women in villages where all these ingredients grow locally to have them produce the soap which she can then resell for them in larger markets such as Accra. This is so incredible cool because initiatives like this are more often than not started by foreigners who come in with the idea that they’re going to help people out by basically working in a bubble and having no idea what the local supply and demand is. But, with a Ghanaian actually doing this and striving to work within the local markets is just fantastic, not to mention the fact she isn’t do this with backing from some Ford or MacArthur grant. She is doing it on her own.
Oh yeah, as to how are the soaps? I bought three bars and I recommend anyone else at Maker Faire Africa to stop by for a look. The cocoa butter and coconut oil one is especially great and I’m having to stop myself from taking a bite out of it.
Just a little Twitter update on the soaps. Apparently my source for most soaps was off as Yasmeen corrected in this tweet
Makers: Yasmeen's Soaps