How One Beauty Brand Is Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty By Empowering Thousands Of Women

"We have a vehicle that she's leveraging. And that feels great."

Clairity is a series introducing readers to new fashion and beauty products from brands our host, Claire Peltier, believes in. These products not only help readers look and feel good, but have a positive impact on the world, the environment, and hopefully the user's self-image, too.

For Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of Sundial Brands — a skin care and hair care manufacturer — starting a company began as a way to make ends meet. Now, he uses his purpose-driven business model to break the cycle of poverty all over the world — and it's working. 

The family-run company employs over 3,500 Ghanian women in 13 communities through a business model called Community Commerce.  These women produce the company's products, such as Nubian Heritage, SheaMoisture, and Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture, which helps them develop and educate their communities now and for the future. Equipping them with such tools is important given that "at least 45 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 US dollars a day," according to World Food Programme.  

Products marked with the Community Commerce logo benefit women-led businesses, support those communities supplying their products, or help The Sofi Tucker Foundation in honor of Dennis's grandmother, Sofi Tucker, whose recipes were the inspiration for many of the products. According to SheaMoisture's website, The Sofi Tucker Foundation is a not-for-profit public charity that "provides financial grants to organizations that seek to economically empower women, their families and communities in the United States and in Africa." Sundial is also working to expand their program to different countries.

To hear more about the business, I met Dennis at their office on Long Island in New York, a bustling space with art and photography decorating the walls. There, I got the chance to try out some of Sundial's products, such as their Sacha Inchi Oil Omega 3, 6,9 Rescue Body Butter and facial wipes

Dennis told me he was born in Liberia and came to The United States to attend college. At that time, Liberia and Sierra Leone were experiencing a civil war, and after graduating, Dennis couldn't return home. He became a refugee in New York and needed to find a way to feed himself and his family. So, he created Sundial Brands along with his best friend, Nyema Tubman, and his mother, Mary Dennis. 

"The women in these cooperatives are women just like my grandmother, who haven't had the opportunity at economic independence, social justice, [education], and our raw materials — our shea, our black soap, our coconut oil — are all traditional ingredients that these women produce for little or nothing. And so there's something fundamentally wrong with that, and so we decided that we were going to change that," Dennis told me.

Over the years, Sundial's efforts have helped these at-risk women  develop their own savings accounts and send their children to school. Sundial is also helping to develop wells so that women don't have to spend their time fetching water for their communities, further empowering them on an economic and educational level. This doesn't just provide a short-term solution to poverty, but rather, a solution that encourages those to break the cycle over time. 

In footage from one of the company's recent trips to Ghana, one Ghanian woman says that through this work, "the times of waking up and having nothing are gone." Dennis said he feels blessed to hear these words, but it's really not about how he feels.

"It's about [the fact that] she has a future. We have a vehicle that she's leveraging. And that feels great." 

Cover photo courtesy of Sundial Brands.

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