The Karethic Story
“It is the story of a sacred tree, whose fruit contains a miraculous oil. For centuries, this tree called Shea, Karité or Shitulu, has been offering beauty and well-being to millions of men and women in Africa.”
A beautiful story but what do we truly know about this sacred African tree exploited for centuries at the expense of African women?
Founded in 2005, Karethic’s mission has been to promote the true Shea butter story, not the miracle stories often quoted in todays media. Their story is about the African womens sacred balm and handmade, unrefined, shea butter. Shea is a fascinating butter that symbolises African spirituality. A gift of nature, unknown by consumers, because it is too often altered by refinement. A cultural heritage transferred from generation to generation, by thousands of female producers in Africa.
Karethic uses Benin’s handmade shea, bringing together 12 co-ops of female producers of shea, partners of the company Karethic Benin and its “little sister” Terrethic France.
Why Opt for an Integrated Value Chain?
We guarantee you the best of what Shea has to offer, including the unmatched know-how of the female producers, from the raw material to the final product : a fresh butter, naturally purified and full of repairing properties.
The interest that you take in our products can directly help impact the shea producers’ lives for the better including enhancing their knowledge and their ecological heritage.
From the Atacora Region – where shea almonds are harvested and shea butter is produced, to Cotonou (the capital city of Benin) and the Rhône-Alpes Region (Terrethic’s Headquarters), Karethic’s shea butter follows a unique journey.
A Symbol of Multiculturalism and Open-Mindedness
The men and women in the coops that product the shea, have contributed greatly to the creation of Karethic. They share a common passion for their own culture. This passion led them to support the development of the Shea’s value chain in Benin. We like to think that Karethic carries the best of them. Many of the producers have been with us Karethic since inception. Maguette the Senegalese was there since the very beginning, Soumia the Algerian, provided her creativity to pay tribute to the female producers. Paco the Spanish, his patience and pragmatism, Catherine with her Vietnamese background, brought her dynamism and fun-filled personality, Davide the Italian added his indisputable taste for beautiful things, Didier, the French Ardéchois his experience, and finally, Glwadys and M. Jean-Pierre Ayité, Karethic’s team in Benin, brought their courage and perseverance, both qualities that turned out to be crucial in face of adversity.
Karethic holds on to these values of quality and authenticity, thanks to the little groups of women producers in Benin, who soon will wake up to harvest the almonds of Shea giving each other courage that the rain will be right on schedule this time of the year, gathering up to add value to their labor, producing a soft, straw-yellow color, hazel fragranced shea butter, naturally purified but not refined : this genuine shea butter that will finally be appreciated for its true value.
The Shea Butter Women Producers
The partner group of the female producers are present in the Atacora. They have been involved with Karethic since the beginning in Borgou. Karethic continues an equally close partnership with the women in Djougou for the making of end products, meant for sale at the sub-region market.
Choosing the Atacora region was natural for Karethic as they can still find chemical-free soils there, and because there is a unique shea culture in Benin.
The Know-How of the Traditional Shea Producers
The Sacred Link between Shea and the African Woman
African Spirituality teaches us that the woman, just as the shea tree, is a living being naturally gifted with the vital energy called ‘Nyama’ by the Mandingo people, ‘Ashe’ by the Yoruba people (also linkable to the ‘Prana’ in Taoism or ‘Shakti’ in Hinduism). This energy enables them to give life. Therefore, only African women have the ability to approach the shea tree and receive the energy from the tree. For generations, they have possessed a unique knowledge and sacred savoir-faire that enables them to naturally extract shea butter while still preserving its wealth and vital energy.
This vital energy also carries the scientific name of ‘unsaponifiables’. The famous natural repairing components that is much sought after in cosmetics. But we do understand that an industrially extracted butter does not have the same value as the genuine butter extracted by African women. Their butter is not only unsaponifiable-rich but because it has been produced within the respect of the traditions and of nature (for instance, shea fruits are not pulled out of the tree, you traditionally let the shea tree release its fruits once they are ripe, ready and filled with oil), it also possesses a “soul supplement”.
For the northern Beninese female producers, producing a good shea butter is a question of honor. It is also about respecting Nature, and respecting yourself and others. A woman must be able to produce, recognise and appreciate an impeccable Shea butter.
As well as thethe conditioning material, the hygienic and security rules that Karethic provide to the producers with everything they need. From the preparation of almonds and the manual churning that unravel all the technical know-how of the producers. This all requires a positive vital energy (Nyama), rigour, generosity, patience and a good hand-turn.
If they prove to be efficient at crushing shea almonds and at obtaining the grounds (showed above), there is still no machine that can compete to offer the unrivaled texture guaranteed by the manual churning.
No machine brings together all of the above qualities…
A Long Term Partnership
The shea producers who decide to join Karethic are aware that this is not many in a long line of non-profit projects, which will disappear as quick as it appeared. Not to belittle some NGOs, they do an amazing job on the field, however, some come and go as quickly as they arrive in these regions. Karethic have been and will continue to be there for the long haul.
Karethic share their struggle on their path to entrepreneurship trying to find the solutions together, as a team. Collecting the shea fruits, producing the shea butter, as well as getting the real shea butter on the market are difficult tasks, which cannot rely on a charitable approach to be substainable - Karethic are very much business partners with their coops and producers.
Karethic support and develop from the ground up, bringing in new competences that will get get even better when shared between different experiences and cultures. That being said, Karethic urge their customers 'Please don’t buy our products thinking you’re charitable or doing a good deed, but because you truly believe in our values and goals : Quality, Authenticity, Dignity, Social Innovation, Respect of traditional know-how, Biodiversity, as the source for economical and human development' They sum up their ethos by saying 'everything that the Feminine Essence can bring to the World!'
One of their producers once said “we are no slaves whose masters are throwing the leftovers once they’re done with eating. Thanks to Karethic, we actually acknowledge better life conditions, our daughters are going to school, and will be later like you.”
These words sum up the real meaning of Fair Trade for Karethic, the reason why they do what they do. Their producers give them the strength to keep going. It has been difficult to promote real shea butter from African women producers, without the public thinking they are doing this from a patronising standpoint. Karethic's action aims at bringing autonomy back to the Shea women and end the donation process. These women have experienced way too many projects being stopped from one day to another other. They want to have their destiny back in their hands. They want to be respected and acknowledged as the main actors in the Shea Industry, and be paid decently for their work and know-how.
The Fair Trade guarrantee ensures you, that Karethic don’t just declare themselves to be fair towards the producers, but also that they have real commitment to them
The traditional criteria for a Fair Trade Business can be challenged (especially when talking about a “fair” price, which is different from one country to another, the dependence of small producers, the lack of information and transparency). That’s the reason why Karethic chose to have demanding specifications and certication on these topics with Bio Equitable, which is all about substainable partnerships between the producer and the consumer, based on mutual respect. If you want to see it to believe it, do not hesitate to visit Karethic in Benin for a true taste of Authenticity!
Well-organised Fair Trade starts with Local
Karethic have the advantage of being from Benin, and they consider that adopting a non-ethical attitude towards their sisters and mothers is cheating not only themselves but also their identity. Karethic have been told on countless occasions that Fair Trade, Organic and Certifications are only good for the Western World, but how can they fight with the Western World and tell them they’re stealing from our wealth if they are not even able to treat their know-how and resources in a respectful way?
The role of Karethic, in giving value to the shea and the producers, as well as preserving the resources of the African soil is to restore the true value of this Grand Cru real shea butter, and get the women producers, along with their families, better life standards. This really is only a drop in the shea 'ocean', however, Karethic hope that others will join them in their fairness and inclusivity. Last but not least, being from Benin prevents the women producers to be too easy on Karethic, this is a good thing. They are the daughters of the country and have to remain humble and thankful. In return, they share their knowledge with Karethic who strive to share that with the rest of us.
Maintaining Long-Term Value adds Economical Activity for the Women Producers
The Karethic adventure started in the North of Benin, with the study of an economical model enabling the preservation and promotion of shea female producers in African rural areas. Beyond the fair trade initiative, it is a continuous commitment for economic development and autonomy.
Promoting their work consists in not only determining their main strength – the mastering of a non industrial, soft production process, enabling the preservation of the butter properties – but it is also providing solutions to their weaknesses : butter stability, ability to create shea butter-based end products without refinement.
The results are : the hand-crafted shea butter put forward by Karethics female producers (supported by technical analysis) corresponds to the international standards of quality, while offering amazing repairing properties never previously offered by refined shea, even though it is present in 98% of body care and hygiene products.
Karethic made a commitment to the female producers of Africa’s rural areas to develop an offer with unrefined, hand-crafted shea that enables :
- To offer either to the professionals or final consumers, a shea butter of quality truly containing all of its repairing assets, exempt from chemical inputs, which does not require deodorisation, discoloration, or additional refinement.
- To preserve on a long-term period and promote an ancestral know-how, a specific production process, an environmental-friendly heritage, a specific culture.
Supporting and Maintaining the Eco-heritage
Shea only grows in the wild : It is “organic by nature” and encourages the food-producing crops of Sorgho’s Yam or Millet.
By organically certifying the soils that grow shea, while promoting the tree, we attempt to contribute to the local food-producing development and help to reduce intensive cultures which require chemical inputs.
There has been some controversy over organic certification of shea trees.
Karethic has been rejecting this process because of the cost, and additionally, because the shea tree is not farmable : it grows without upkeep or fertilizer.
'Carole, remembers one day, while they were meeting with the shea butter women producers of the Atacora in July 2009 we received testimonies of chemical inputs used by their husbands for cotton’s culture. This had me convinced : bark blue rivers’ water, ill-formed newborns… I didn’t have to explain to them why organic food crops, they knew about it before I did, but the most difficult part was yet to come… Convince the Husband!'
It is not the shea tree that is organically certified, but the soil from which it grows. It is true that most African villages have chemical inputs-free soils, but to not certify them organic is to let the possibility of intensive culture to evolve and recreating the mistakes of “developed” countries! To protect those organic soils, we “simply” decided to certify them organic by Ecocert. For Karethic, it is more than just a marketing move to seduce consumers. IT IS A COMMITMENT.
The Partners of Karethic
Association loi 1901, Bio Partenaire réunit des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises soucieuses de produire dans le respect des critères environnementaux et qualitatifs de l’Agriculture Biologique et des critères du Commerce Equitable.
UNIDO is the specialised agency of the United Nations that promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.
Searce is an international research agency specialised in customised market research for NGOs, Trade Promotion Organisations, Trade Associations and similar organisation that aim to stimulate the exports from developing countries to Europe.
in 2012, The Beninese Agency for Business Trade (“Agence Beninoise des Echanges Commerciaux”) met the Global Shea Alliance team in Benin and actively takes part in the promotion of the shea butter made by the women producers.