WHERE BLACK SOAP COMES FROM AND WHO IS MAKING YOUR BLACK SOAP
This video montage shows a typical traditional soap making factory in Ghana where black soap is made. African black soap factories in Ghana can either be owned by men or women. However, you will not find owners working there themselves. Traditionally, a black soap factory owner used to know how to make black soap and would have worked together with their workers. What you find now in Ghana is that black soap manufacturers produce on small scale for the Ghanaian market. These manufacturers do not have access to the international markets themselves so distributors would buy African black soap in bulk (from various sources) to be mixed with fragrance and repacked before selling under their own brands.
Over the years, soap making in Ghana and ownership has changed a lot. Black soap factory owners now can either be a Ghanaian or any of the many expats in that live in Ghana. To give a mini history of the demographics of Ghana expats and non Ghanaian Ghanaians. Ghana as a country is made up of several tribes who originated from different parts of Africa. Since the end of colonisation, Ghana has had the hausa’s from Nigeria who migrated to live in modern Ghana. The Lebanese now have 2nd and 3rd generation Ghanaian Lebanese families who over the years have intermarried with local Ghanaians. Post democracy, Ghana had modern economic migrants from India, Pakistan and much later the South Africans and Chinese. These do not entirely make up the expat community in Ghana.
This Youtube video can be found here:
However, the mentioned groups are the migrants that have heavily invested in local and traditional industries. So it is common now to find African black soap manufacturers in Ghana that are not natives or an expat. These factories however employ locals who have a long history of making black soaps themselves. Some of these workers are either permanent employees or on commission basis who would also have a small scale manufacturing themselves. It is also common to find big named international cosmetic brands set up a co-op made of small black soap makers whom they buy from to repackage under their brand.
It is very hard for the typical Ghanaian to access to any other market other than within their locality. This is not even due to political structures. What I have noticed is common in Ghana is that people are very afraid to practice or attempt things that are out of the norm. This fear is even worse when it comes to taking risk to exploit newer ways of doing business. Most black soap sellers are petty traders who would only make very small quantities of soap at a time to sell. People hardly ever make more than 10kgs for instance out of fear of many variables.
THESE VARIABLES ARE:
To simplify it are,
- Based on a long history inconsistent inflation. Until the current government in Ghana, inflation in Ghana had been fluctuating at the most drastic levels compared to the rest of the world(although a bit of a norm for Africa). It was very common for the prices of raw material to changed at a rate of anything from 50% to 200% on a monthly basis. (You can easily read about ‘dumsor’ and its effect online by Googling). This had lead to local petty traders harbouring fears of depreciation of stock. This fear is not just one that soap makers harbours but people from all types of trades. The only manufacturers who know how to overcome this fear are the distributors, who are literate business educated people.
- Many traditional black soap manufacturers are illiterate, as such they do not even explore the idea of scaling their production. Soap makers stick to the basic method they have been taught. Which is i.e. you weigh 1 margarine tin potash, 1 small bucket of water and 1 olonka of palm oil. (Traditionally, empty cans and tins are used in weighing ingredients in Ghanaian households. It is very hard to convince locals to deviate from this practice. Often in my classes, a group would pressurise and try to convince me by asking that I translate weights of items in terms of the tins they are used).
- Black soap was for many years looked down on by locals, the local market did not patronise this type soap preferring imported soaps. The resurfacing of black soap on the Ghanaian market has been highly due to Youtube vloggers promotion of black soap for its wonderful effects over the years. Due to the lack of patronage locally, this has left a permanent distrust of local manufacturers from investing in scaling their production.
- A lack of capital, many petty traders never break out of their initial capital. There is a local way of doing business in Ghana amongst petty traders who cost based on market prices and not based on their own expenses. As an educator, I have tried over the years to ingrain in my students to cost according to their expenses to a very miserable failure rate. People panic after a short period and then revert to going with the market price. Added to this is also the fact that the Ghanaian market has a buy on credit system which sees profits tied up for lengthy periods.
Going back to soap making, I have given a brief summary on why locals do not own black soap manufacturing at the same rate as in the past. Please bear in mind that despite the hindrances, distributors who have access to Amazon and selling online mediums however purchase from these mentioned small manufacturers and then repackage. So in the end, authentic black soap from local manufacturers still flood the international market.
The pictures seen in the montage shows the soap making factory owned by local muslim woman who has been supplying several large named international distributors for many years. If you have purchased ABS on Amazon or eBay, then you have without a doubt purchased from Hajia. Hajia is based in a small village outside of Accra, the capital of Ghana. The whole village lives of the production of black soap. Hajia is the only local who has a large scale production. She employs many locals who also make black soap to sell to locals from the surrounding villages and business women who come in from Accra and other cities to buy black soap. I created the montage and posted it on Youtube in 2013, before we started our production at Ghana Soap School.