Janice, or Jan, Smith isn’t a beauty guru, and her plans for life never included entering the natural beauty products game. Jan began as a loyal customer of natural West African beauty products. Her enthusiasm for shea butter and black soap lead her to sell the products at our Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market. Jan imports the ingredients for the black soap and shea butter from Senegal. An enthusiastic customer is often a terrific salesperson. After a sale, Janice tells a customer to “stay beautiful.”

An Unexpected Enterprise

Jan is the founder and CEO of Creative Arts Spirit Of Excellence (CASOE) Group, a performing arts and training company on Woodward in the North End that teaches performance and practical skills through theater, dance, and music to Detroit youth. This is her passion, and compliments her own work as an artist, entrepreneur, and educator. The skills and passions she uses at CASOE Group are apparent at Jan’s Shea Tree; in fact, Jan’s Shea Tree wouldn’t exist if not for a friend she made at CASOE Group. Many years ago she made a friend from Senegal at CASOE Group. Her new friend had started the business of importing and selling shea butter and black soap from his home country. Jan tried his products and quickly became a loyal customer. Eventually Jan’s friend went back to Senegal, and the business ended up in Jan’s hands. That was seven years ago, and she still works with her old friend who still exports the products out of Senegal. Over the years Jan has even picked up some Wolof, the major language spoken in Senegal.

An All-Natural Product

Shea butter is something that many people know about as a moisturizer, but African black soap is still new to many. Shea butter is a fat derived from the nut of the shea tree found in West Africa. Shea butter is found in countless beauty products, but pure shea butter is especially beneficial. Only a tiny amount is needed to moisturize, and it also acts as a natural sunscreen. African black soap is much more surprising: the main ingredients include the ash of sun-dried and roasted shea tree bark, plantain peels, cocoa pods, and palm leaves. This combination is then mixed with various oils and left to cure. Most African black soap recipes are very traditional and vary from region to region. Many local communities throughout West African keep their recipes secret. Jan’s recipe came from her Senegalese friend’s community.

The soap can cleanse and even skin tone across many skin types. Jan recalls one customer who sent it to college with her daughter. Soon, her daughter’s entire dorm started calling Jan asking for more black soap. Jan says that most of her business is derived from online orders and returning customers which demonstrates the value of her products. Just as CASOE Group lead Jan to share the benefits she found in natural African beauty products, so too does Jan’s Shea Tree help sustain CASOE Group. Some of the proceeds from the sales of shea butter and black soap help to provide a pace for Detroit area youth to learn and grow through the performing arts.

You can find Jan’s Shea Tree at the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market at 18445 Scarsdale, on Thursdays from 4- 8 pm through October 4. You can also contact Jan by emailing her at janssheatree@att.net.