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Ghanaian-American Naa-Sakle Akuete quit Job at JP Morgan to start her own Shea Butter Business

As Africans, we value education as we have been told over and over again that education is the key to success. We hear this at home from our parents, at schools from our teachers, and successful older siblings, relatives, and friends during the family gatherings.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that among the list of the most successful immigrant groups in America today are Africans from Nigeria. More on that in our previous article, here.

MBA from Harvard, got a job at JP Morgan, then Quits to pursue her own Business

However, that grit to pursue education to the highest level possible, as a means to open the doors of opportunities is not unique only to the Nigerian-Americans community. That grit shines across the face of the African continent like the Sun.

To drive home that analogy, is 34-year-old Naa-Sakle Akuete from Maryland. She was born to African migrant parents who fled their home country Ghana, due to the political turmoil in the 1970s that ensued after a military coup.

It was an uphill task for her parents to raise Naa-Sakle and her two older brothers. In 2002, when Naa-Sakle went to join a boarding school in Massachusetts, her mother Eugenia had to move back to Ghana. Prompted by her Naa-Sakle’s grandmother’s sickness, and Eugenia was the one to take care of her in Ghana.

During Eugenia’s stay in Ghana, while looking after her aging mother, she came up with the idea of bulk shea butter distribution. She followed that idea with action and soon launched the company, which she called after her daughter, Naasakle International.

Her prominence in the shea butter industry gave her wide recognition that she was appointed the first President of the Global Shea Alliance, a consultancy organization that advises governments and NGOs on the best practice standards on shea butter and fair trade policies.

Through her mom’s newfound business opportunity in Africa, Naa-Sakle began getting exposure to the world of shea butter. However, it was not enough to overly excite her.

Naa-Sakle Akuete with her mother Photo: Courtesy of Vogue.com/ Ben Akuete

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Naa-Sakle’s interest in the shea butter business picked when the same tragic event that befell her mother also happened to her. Her mother Eugenia got sick, and it was upon Naa-Sakle to look after her.

“Back in 2013, my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. I started helping with her business operations to keep the company running.

Then, while my mom was in remission, she got seriously ill with bacterial meningitis. At that point, I took over her business,” said Akuete during an interview with Vogue.

As her mother was becoming more hands-off the business, Naa-Sakle was getting more hands-on.

The Apple doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

As she took up more roles in her mother’s business, Naa-Sakle’s understanding of the shea business grew deeper. She even began to develop a love for the trade. In 2014, she decided to venture into the business herself and started a new business, Eu’Genia Shea. A top-tier shea butter products, packaged in beautifully embossed tins.

Eugenia Shea - 100 Natural Raw Shea Butter-page-001
Img Credit: EugeniaShea.com

After starting the business, Naa-Sakle found juggling between her family, which now included her mother and her job at J.P. Morgan too much of a handful. It was then that she quit her job and embarked on entirely putting her focus on her family and new business.

Although that was not the future she had thought for herself, during her years in school and after securing a job at J.P. Morgan. Her passion for the shea industry was just too big to ignore, and she went all out with it.

Having learned the intricate art of processing and preserving shea. Naa-Sakle products through the Eu’Genia Shea business are carefully processed and packaged to preserve the natural benefits and healing properties of shea.

If not handled in the right way, the vitamins A, E, and K found in shea that gives it their healing properties get damaged. The shea quality also drops when it is overly refined, as it strips away their natural color and scent.

Naa-Sakle says to get a top-quality shea product at shelves in stores and supermarkets; it first starts with picking the best quality nuts.

“Raw shea butter is often put into cheap, plastic tubs. That packaging doesn’t convey the beauty of the women who make it or that it’s a luxury product. In order to connote the quality of my line, I developed gold tins that really express the value of what’s inside.” – Naa-Sakle explained.

Unlike in Western countries, women in Africa recognize shea as a gold beauty product. Naa-Sakle wants to serve the rest of the world with the best quality of the same product, which she plans to achieve through a meticulous production process. From picking top quality nuts, the right processing, and packaging.

That is then followed by an efficient distribution system that will deliver top-quality shea butter products to customers in America and across the world.

Related: Entrepreneurship: An opportunity for African Immigrants?

Eu’Genia Shea Products now Stocked by leading Brands

If judging by the fact that Eu’Genia Shea’s products are now being sold by big brands like The Detox Market, Anthropologie, and Credo. Then it would be safe to say that Naa-Sakle might have made the right career move when she quit her job to become her own boss doing what she loves.

Giving back to the Community

Naa-Sakle is aware of the fact that, were it not for Ghana, and the community around her mother’s native land. She might have not gotten into the shea butter business that she is now so proud of.

As a way to show her gratitude, 15% of Eu’Genia Shea profits go towards projects to empower women’s education in the northern parts of Ghana. Most of the beneficiaries of that fund are the 7,500 women working as nut pickers.

Naa-Sakle is currently working on a new line of shea butter products that she will soon launch in the market. She says the new line of product will launch across 700 stores in the US, by July this year.

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