Interview with Akua Akyiaa Wood – Owner and Director of Sheabutter Cottage

Akua Akyiaa Wood 

Sheabutter Cottage is a fair trade, ethical business based in Sonning, Reading (UK). Through their online business they stock handmade Cioccolatina natural toiletries and exotic butters & supplies.  The business was started in 2002 at a time when there were not that many handmade natural product companies around. Akua is Ghanaian and her middle name Akyiaa means ‘pathbearer’ when speaking to her, I could see why.

Q: So why did you start Sheabutter Cottage?
Well, I had just had my daughter and as she is mentally handicapped there was no way I would be able to go back to a 9-5 job. My dad used to concoct products for our skin and so I decided that I would do the same, back then I started with the Cioccolatina range.


Some of the Cioccolatina soaps

Q: Ciccolatina – how did you come up with that name?

It’s actually a nickname given to me when I studied in Italy, it’s sort of stuck with me.

Q. Your business will be 10 years old next year, that’s a long time in the industry what were the challenges at that time?
Well first of all there were no black people that I knew of in the handmade toiletry industry and it was quite difficult to get into. I tried to get a grant and was told I was too old – haha! So without any sort of other funding I wasn’t able to compete with larger brands. In the UK there is quite a lot of paperwork and lots of taxes plus you have to import almost everything from packaging to raw materials. It wasn’t and it still isn’t easy.

Q. So without any funding how did you grow?
I just let it grow organically, and I am very grateful for all of my customers and anyone that has recommended me. It would be nice to see UK products desired more but many of us do not have the ability to create those big PR campaigns.

Q. There is a philanthropic quality to your business isn’t there?
Yes my business is fair trade and ethical and I try and use sustainable products.  I come from a farming background and back then there was not much fair trade so I wanted to do my bit to help. I don’t have Fair Trade Certification – I can’t afford it but my customers know how I operate. For example with my shea butter I get it directly from the ladies that make it (not the market) so I make sure it is of good quality and I also give them a fair deal.
Shea Butter Cottage’s Unrefined Shea Butter


Q. You also have a charity side to it as well don’t you?
Yes definitely it’s important for me to be able to help others who are less fortunate than me. Sometimes people laugh at me and say that your kitchen at home is not done, why are you raising or giving money to some people in Ghana? I laugh and say that well those people don’t even have a kitchen to use. I also sponsor a child in Swaziland as part of our helping hands programme and I am so excited as I just visited him.

Q. So what products from your website do you use on your skin and hair?
Despite all my products I do have a shea butter bias haha! It’s so simple and natural. I use it on my hair, face and body. I also use papaya oil on my skin if it is dry and pracaxi oil as a treat.


Pracaxi Oil – Brazilian Oil which is very moisturising
and used to improve skin tone. Its also great for hair too! 

Q. As the natural hair industry grows there has been quite a boom in homemade natural product Companies, what is your advice to all these newbies?
Starting your own business takes a lot of hard work and for me years to get anywhere. There was a time when my business was not doing well at all and I am not too proud to say it. When I am on holiday or away my business closes down, I also have to spend long hours in the kitchen making all the products because I don’t have a factory. So it is really important to have a reason why you are setting up and not just jump in – mine was my family.
For more information or to visit the website please click here
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Comments

  1. I like this post…cant wait to try her products