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The hidden (human) cost of shea butter, according to Sleigh Bells’ frontwoman


alexis krauss ghana shea butter
Photo: Global Mamas

Alexis Krauss—the tattooed, cat eye liner-loving, cutoffs-wearing lead singer of the indie band Sleigh Bells—has always considered herself a sustainable, conscious person. But she didn’t realize the extent of the toxic chemicals in her beloved beauty products until she read an article about microbeads in the New York Times.

alexis krauss
Photo: Shannon Kurlander

It led to way more than just a major bathroom cabinet overhaul: Soon after, Krauss serendipitously met Jessica Assaf, a longtime beauty activist—and before long the two started Beauty Lies Truth. Their super-informative blog about the industry is on a mission to educate women on where “natural” ingredients in their everyday products actually come from and how they’re made.

“Just because something is labeled as natural doesn’t always mean it’s made from a sustainable process,” says Krauss, who admits she’s fallen for greenwashed marketing claims before.

Her latest project—part of a Vice documentary highlighting the varied interests of musicians, alongside friend and Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino—has been around shea butter, one of the most popular natural ingredients that also happens to be mostly produced by women. “It’s an incredibly labor-intensive process to make shea butter,” says Krauss. “There’s no shortcut, no machines, and no labor laws protecting these women producing it.”

“Just because something is labeled as natural doesn’t always mean it’s made from a sustainable process”

Despite how lucrative shea butter itself is, the industry is surprisingly unregulated. “There’s so much poverty in northern Ghana, so it doesn’t pay well and you have everything from child labor going on to women working in dangerous conditions,” the musician explains. “It’s nowhere near fair wage. The fact that we have product that lots of consumers are taking advantage of on a daily basis and no one thinks about how unregulated it is is so wrong to me.”

This is why she and Cosentino decided to develop their own super-clean, super-ethical skin-care product—called Global Beauty Butter—in partnership with Global Mamas (an organization looking to bring prosperity to women in Africa). The cooperative of women they met with in northern Ghana are the ones producing the shea butter.

“The fact that we have product that lots of consumers are taking advantage of on a daily basis and no one thinks about how unregulated it is is so wrong to me”

“As I became engaged with these women, I wanted to create some type of meaningful change while I was there,” says Krauss. “So I developed a relationship with Global Mamas and some of the women actually making the shea butter in Ghana to create a unique product, and all of the proceeds go back to the women.” The money is used to finance infrastructure projects within the community for a better working environment.

“These women are so grateful and enthusiastic, and feel a sense of purpose doing a tradition they had learned from their mothers and are passing it down to their daughters,” says Krauss. “They’re so proud to be participating in this economy of natural beauty.”

That, in addition to the fact that the Global Beauty Butter is ultra-hydrating and skin-toning, makes it a serious win-win. Who’s ready for an encore?

Watch her documentary below, and you can shop Global Beauty Butter here—all benefits go back to the women in the shea butter cooperative in Ghana.

Krauss’ story is further proof that we’re in the midst of a clean beauty revolution. And if you’re in the New York City area, come meet her! She’ll be speaking at the Well+Good beauty disruptors panel at the Indie Beauty Expo on Wednesday, August 24 at 7 p.m.