LINDA DEMPAH H’20
Developing West African beauty products that blend traditional materials with modern techniques
Working in corporate America, Linda Dempah H’20, a Harvard Business School MBA graduate, traveled frequently and led an active lifestyle. She paid little attention to the maintenance rules for her chemically processed hair and ended up losing it and having to transition to a natural style without planning to. Despite testing numerous products, she struggled to establish a simple routine with products she could trust. Her mother, an Ivory Coast-based pharmacist with 30 years of experience, gave her a mysterious oil to try. Her usually coarse strands became cotton-soft overnight. It was a life-changing experience. She gave some of the oil to her NYC-based friends who urged her to start marketing it in the US. Adeba Nature was her next step.
“Empowering women to feel chic and beautiful with a brand that is rooted in traditions that have been preserved for generations in Ivorian villages.”
THE CHALLENGE: Black women worldwide face a trifecta of issues – damaged self-worth due to Eurocentric beauty standards, little knowledge on how to take care of their own skin/hair and little to no availability of natural and effective products to do so. This ultimately impacts their health and ability to move freely in the world. Black women are over-exposed and under-protected to toxic products. Research shows that 77% of women in Nigeria using skin lightening products. Chemical relaxers can increase a black woman’s breast cancer risk by 45%. Black women are also more likely to suffer from ailments, with 50% of black women experiencing alopecia and hyperpigmentation. Research on solutions to address these issues is tenuous. A black woman’s hair care routine can also constrain their lifestyles. Nearly 40% of a study participants reported avoiding exercise at times because of their hair. Black women in the USA use on average nine times more personal care products than their non-black counterparts. Against this background and being personally invested in finding a solution, Dempah saw an opportunity to innovate traditional West African secrets to develop a natural range of products that would help the African diaspora and others to better care for their skin and hair. This would not only serve to improve physical and psychological health, but had the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by empowering local women in the start-up.
THE PROCESS: With strong ties to her country of birth, the Ivory Coast, and access to a key product ingredient, Adjoba oil, Dempah set about developing innovative formulas that combine research with traditional knowledge and techniques developed over multiple generations to solve her own team’s hair and dry skin needs. Adeba Nature means “Chic, beautiful woman” in Agni, the language of the Sanwi Akan kingdom of the Ivory Coast. This was what Dempah wanted to achieve – to enable women to be chic and classy inside and out. When she co-founded Adeba Nature in 2017, her vision was to turn it into the first global consumer products company out of West Africa, in turn fostering women empowerment and lifting up her native Côte d’Ivoire. Their authentic products are rooted in traditions that have been preserved in West African villages, which Dempah has improved to make them more accessible to customers around the world. Being local, the company has unparalleled access to the best ingredients. She refers to the business as a West Africa-based healing company that offers products that reunite women with their self-worth. Adeba Nature’s operations are based in the Ivory Coast, which enables them to use locally sourced ingredients with proven personal care benefits, such as shea butter and palm kernel oil. All products are formulated with fewer than five all-natural ingredients. Beyond the products they offer that foster personal health, they promote deeper healing. Part of Dempah’s mission is to fight the lack of self-worth tied to poor self-image that is endemic in the African diaspora and which can result in harmful practices, such as skin bleaching. Many people in West Africa do not believe they have much to offer, unless they get to Europe or sadly die trying. Dempah wanted to show that opportunities do exist locally. Adeba Nature is slowly breaking the cycle of poverty for women in the Ivory Coast by providing qualified Ivorinas access to quality jobs. They also maintain a women-led supply chain, which favors the integration of a developing country’s economy into global trade exchanges at a higher level in the value chain.
THE RESULTS: Launched 2017 with their operations in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Adeba Nature has developed a line of unique and effective dermo-cosmetics products that address a wide range of health and personal care issues. Thirteen products have been created to date with four more in the pipeline. The company, which started operating from the family basement, has since moved into their own factory and employs 20 full-time Ivorians. The company works with local women to procure the ingredients, a cash-generating activity for them and innovates on tried-and-tested formulas. All products are locally manufactured, creating high-quality jobs at all levels in the value chain. We represent a “made in Africa” innovation that embraces local knowledge, builds from it and creates local jobs. Adeba Nature works with the top four distributors and is currently available in 130+ pharmacies in the Ivory Coast. Their volume of orders doubled in the January-June 2019 period. They also have a team of dynamic ‘Adeba Ladies’ who run events and lead health and beauty workshops. Having obtained accreditation from the Ivory Coast’s health ministry, they are now exporting to the USA where they have a direct-to-consumer model. They plan to rapidly grow this to develop a core group of repeat customers with high lifetime value and have invested in search engine optimization and website design to increase conversion rates. Adeba Nature is also available on their own website as well as via Amazon and Etsy. The company’s leadership is entirely composed of women who have strong roots in West Africa and extensive global exposure and are themselves bridges between multiple worlds, generations and perspectives. They also have real skin in the game as they use all the products they sell. Their revenue has grown 200% each year since launching operations in 2017 and they have ambitious plans to expand into Senegal where they can leverage their relationship with an existing distributor. Dempah plans to continue leading Adeba Nature to turn it into an African giant and by doing so contributing to the development of Africa via innovation, improved health and local women empowerment.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ADEBA NATURE
Adeba Nature is a line of West African beauty products that blends traditional materials with modern techniques.
Creating furniture for Africans wherever they are in the world
ABOUT LINDA DEMPAH
An entrepreneur building a natural beauty brand in the Ivory Coast that empowers women across the globe
Dempah has a BA Honours degree in Mathematics, Economics and Computer Science from the Wesleyan University, Connecticut and an MBA from Harvard Business School. After graduating, she joined Ameriprise Financial as the Strategic Sourcing Director where she negotiated high value contracts with IT suppliers, ran strategic projects and worked alongside business partners to effectively manage and reduce costs. She joined McKinsey & Company as a Management Consultant in 2015 where she served clients in a variety of industries focusing on operations excellence. In 2010, she founded Tropical Foodies, a food blog showcasing authentic recipes from the tropics, from Cote d’Ivoire, to Haiti, Brazil and Singapore. In May 2019 she left McKinsey to found Adeba Nature in the Ivory Coast, a West African beauty company that empowers black women across the globe by connecting them to their roots via authentic offerings grounded in tradition. In 2018, Dempah was the McKinsey internal new venture competition winner and in 2019 recognized as one of the 50 personality/ leaders to watch in Cote d’Ivoire’s first “Who’s who”. She was also the 2019 recipient of the Sisley Prize for a successful women-led entrepreneurial venture in the Ivory Coast.
I AM A HARAMBEAN
Linda Dempah views Harambe as an opportunity to surround herself with as many like-minded entrepreneurs as she can.
“Being a Harambean gives me an opportunity to share the different ways of doing business in Africa, i.e. finding our “sweet spots” as Africans instead of playing catch up. As an Ivorian, I would also serve as a bridge between French-speaking Africa and the rest of the continent.”