#LoveLetterToAfrica: One Beauty Brand Founder's Journey Through Ghana

“I always think of my ancestors when I'm creating.”

54 Thrones founder Christina Funke Tegbe takes Bustle through her trip to Accra, Ghana as the skinca...
54 Thrones

African beauty is rich with beautiful traditions that unite and celebrate its practitioners — and finally, more of those traditions and practices are making their way onto shelves in the United States. Part of that burgeoning representation is 54 Thrones, a skin care brand with soaps, oils, body butters, and more that are inspired by — and whose ingredients are directly sourced from — the continent.

The heart and soul at the center of 54 Thrones is founder Christina Funke Tegbe, who has a love for Africa that runs deep — far beyond her own Nigerian heritage. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Tegbe grew up exposed to West African beauty customs that helped keep her family members connected while worlds away from each other. As a child, her aunt would frequently send her family shea butter from Nigeria. That stopped as the years went on, but when Tegbe’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, her aunt once again started sending shea butter for her mother’s scar.

At the time of her mother’s diagnosis, Tegbe was burnt-out and working as a management consultant. She was already considering a major life change and the shea butter sparked memories of her childhood. “I felt like I needed to go and learn about my heritage. I needed to be around my family,” Tegbe tells Bustle. With that, the 36-year-old entrepreneur quit her job and took off on what would become the first of many trips to Nigeria, Ghana, and Morocco. There, Tegbe fell in love with the intricate production process of shea butter and coconut oil. “I was this young soul who was interested in what they were doing. And from there, it grew.”

Today, 54 Thrones has taken Tegbe all over the continent. She’s developed a close relationship with Ghanian cooperatives, and makes it a point to buy shea butter directly from them. “I didn't want to just order from the middle person. I wanted to make sure that they were getting livable rates for what they were selling, because I had witnessed all the hard work that it takes to make this stuff.”

In preparation for 54 Thrones’ Sephora debut on Sept. 28, Tegbe and her team traveled to Ghana to snap content for their #LoveLettertoAfrica campaign. Below, a behind-the-scenes look at her breathtaking journey.

Wednesday, Sept. 1: Visit To The Tamale Shea Coop in Tamale, Ghana

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“The northern part of Ghana is where a lot of the shea butter is produced in West Africa. The cooperatives that we work with live and are headquartered here. It’s always good to revisit and go back to where it all started.

“Whenever I'm there, they're at work — but they all work together, they all live together, [and] a lot of them are family. So it's always like this community effort, a community event. It was cool to actually sit with them and speak with them about some of their concerns, especially with [the past year].”

Thursday, Sept. 2: Snacking On Shea Fruit In Tamale, Ghana

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“A lot of the ingredients that other brands use, machines are making them and they're made in the lab. Our shea butter is picked from a tree. The fruit is picked, the outside is eaten, and the nuts are then processed into oil. It's still this age-old way of manufacturing and hand-crafting. Sometimes when they do that, they go out into the bush and there are snakes. That was one of their other concerns.

We were able to purchase safety boots and gloves for them so that they're able to safely continue to do their job and not be afraid of snakes. That was a highlight; they were so excited for the safety boots.”

Thursday, Sept 2: Watching A Drone Fly In Tamale, Ghana

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“We visited with the cooperative leader and a lot of the women that we work with, and it was so great to see them. I showed them our old videos and pictures on my phone, so that was a cool moment.

“[The past year] has changed everything, but it has especially affected them, being the makers [of shea butter] and with demand going down for them. They really expressed that they want people to know that they're open for business.

“This is their livelihood. To us, it's a beauty product. But to them, it's how they feed their family and their communities. So we sat with them, and we listened to their concerns. We also did an overview of [their] beauty rituals and why they're significant to them.”

Friday, Sept. 3: Drinks At Kozo In Accra, Ghana

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“[54 Thrones brand assistant Tiffani Herndon and I] went to this super adorable Japanese place in Accra. It's actually Ghanian-owned, but it's called Kozo. It's super interesting because Kozo flew in and moved in Japanese chefs. The chefs moved to Accra and they actually live there. Everything is authentic, and I really love that because, again, it goes back to attribution. After that...let me just tell you that Accra nightlife is lit.”

Saturday, Sept. 4: Sephora Shoot At Aburi Botanical Garden In Aburi, Ghana

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“The first day of our [Sephora] shoot, we went to Aburi Botanical Gardens, just about 14 miles from Accra. We have beautiful images of so much biodiversity, so many different types of plants and flowers, and trees. Aburi is definitely a place you want to go and have a picnic with your boo.

“We wanted [the shoot] to have an authentic Ghanian atmosphere. 100 percent Ghanian models, staff, creative director, photographer, videographer, editor. Everything was Ghanian; it was a locally produced campaign.”

Saturday, Sept. 4: Celebrating A Successful Shoot At The Aburi Botanical Gardens

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“I've learned so much throughout my travels: Africa is beautiful. Africa is romantic. Africa is joy. We have to show the other story because so many people think of Africa and they think of poverty and disease. They don't think of all the magnificent beaches, food, art, and culture.

“Although we're a beauty brand, it's also our responsibility to show that other side — and do more than show it. Patronize the other side. If you want to help Africa, do business there. And so that's why it's important to me to always think of those things. [I] always think of my ancestors when I'm creating, and making sure they get their due.”

Sunday, Sept. 5: Having Fun In Accra, Ghana

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“We went to the cutest places while we were [in Accra]. We went to a place called The Republic, which is like a reggae bar, where it's all local Ghanian alcohol. You can’t just get a tequila. It’s all local Ghanian craft cocktails. We went there and there were great vibes, a live DJ outside on the patio, and it was just completely lovely.”

Sunday, Sept. 5: Brunch At Kukun In Accra, Ghana

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“[Afua Rida] is an entrepreneur and a huge blogger. She took us to this cute little brunch space called Kukun and [it was like a] little slice of your favorite neighborhood brunch spot. It was so tasty and it was great to speak with her. She has some exciting projects coming out, so it was cool to meet up with her and talk about Accra, and what it means to be an African woman entrepreneur [trying] to start a business there.”