Tammie is Wearing a Basket Made by Her New Friend
Meet Shea Terra Founder,
In 1999, Shea Terra founder, Tammie Umbel, embarked on an incredible journey to bring natural beauty secrets to the world. Considered one of the founding mothers of the green beauty movement, Tammie spent endless years identifying indigenous ingredients and their traditional uses. Tammie continues her quest for unknown ingredients to enhance skin and hair health while creating economic opportunities for remote regions of the world. She works closely with wildlife conservation groups which give economic incentives to local populations to preserve habitats.
I created the first Shea Terra products in 1999. We no longer have those products, but they formed the basis for how I formulated Shea Terra products. I think I was born with a miniature Shea Terra inside me. If anything, I probably came into this world with the seeds for Shea Terra. My earliest memories are my fondness for nature. I was a very curious child. I was very curious about plants and loved the aromas of nature. I was very sensitive to suffering and formed bonds with animals. I couldn’t imagine hurting an animal and pondered over how humans were destroying animal habitats. I had a fascination with cultures. I was particularly fond of the Chinese and Indian cultures. I learned everything that I could about distant places. I wanted to join the Peace Corp to help those in need. At the same time, I believed in empowering people. I felt it was more important to give someone the tools that they need to help themselves than to provide them with handouts. The more I look back at my life it seems that I was being prepared to create Shea Terra.
By no means were we privileged. I come from a long line of Appalachian mountain people. They ate squirrels and made moon shine. They had to find whatever means they could to survive. I was born in Atlanta but spent my young years in Florida. It was awesome. I got to experience living alongside gators and other wildlife. Later we moved to Maryland where my dad was from. He was born in Walter Reed hospital, parents of a WWII soldier and WWII nurse. This is where they decided I would go to school. We no longer traveled down south. My first school was a nice mixture of fair and dark-skinned students and faculty. It was an amazing school. As much as I disliked Maryland I later realized that growing up there was a blessing in disguise. Dark-skinned children and fair skin children played together without anyone pointing out to us that we were different. With time we had more and more international students. I loved getting to know about their cultures, and it was always a treat anytime I got to share their food. With time my mother became a single mom of three young children. Times were really tough. School clothes were hard to come by. I wouldn’t even ask for a pencil. I am not sure how I managed to get through school. Going without, I guess, helped me to understand how others in similar situations feel as well.
I was a different kind of kid. By no means was I typical. We moved around a lot and I was often by myself so I had to find ways of entertaining myself. I loved to draw and write stories and poems. I would try to dress up to look like people in different countries. I would watch Chinese movies on my small black and white tv. I loved sports and even made some state track records. I loved to play football, but I wasn’t a soccer kind of person. I made strange concoctions from things in the woods, and you would never want to leave me alone in your kitchen, or home for that matter. I also liked fashion and beauty. I once made a sauna in my friend’s bathroom and we ended up rubbing the paint of the walls. This is after I shaved her eyebrows. I loved going to the beach with my friend Min. She would carry me out into the water so the crabs didn’t bite my feet. She was brave. On the way back we would stop at 7-11 with my five dollars and get bags full of candy bars, Combos, Ho Hos…. Those were the days.
Brace yourself for this. I had it all figured out. When I was just a wee little girl I determined I was going to be a lawyer. My mom would ask me to share my career choice with adults. They would get a kick out of it. I said that I was going to be a lawyer, and they would ask me who was going to take care of my kids. I told them that my husband was going to stay home and take care of my kids. This was the 70’s. I was also determined to be the first woman president of the United States. I was going to change the world. I never considered there could be another woman president before me, and so far there hasn’t been anyhow, so I still could be the first.
Jane Goodall was my ultimate hero growing up. I was fascinated by her travels and ability to communicate with the animals. I watched as many documentaries on her work as was available. Today I can appreciate all that she did to educate the rest of the world about the importance of habitat conservation. In fact, she inspired a lovely biologist I work closely with. He now creates economic opportunities within communities by using indigenous ingredients to fund and encourage habitat conservation. Shea Terra uses several ingredients from his projects.
Namibia! What an amazing, beautiful place. It is mostly desert but it is brimming with life. Off the main road in Swakopmund we found an oasis. It took us about an hour to climb through the dunes in scorching heat to get to it. But it was all worth it. The dunes oasis was filled with hundreds of pelicans and my favorite- flamingos. It was breath taking. We then went to one of the highest dunes in the world Dune 7, where my kids climbed to the top and in a few seconds slid all the way to the bottom. While there we drank marula juice at the Etosha Wildlife Park. It was exciting to watch the animals come to the waterholes at night. I think that people in Africa are so blessed to have been able to be born where they are.
Of course, each Shea Terra formula has a unique story. I am more of an ethnobotanist than anything else. I study the use of plants by indigenous peoples. I am interested in finding out what plants are utilized by different communities, and how they are used. Once I understand the benefits of different plant materials I start thinking of ways to formulate them into products which Westerners (our key market) can understand. Every formula is built upon my commitment to generosity. When I formulated my first products, I decided that I would give as much of the active, costly ingredients as possible. I decided it was better to give people their money’s worth rather than try to squeeze as much profit out of my products as possible. My faith teaches me the rewards of kindness and charity. When people buy from Shea Terra I want to make them happy. I want to touch people’s lives. My rewards are the emails I get from our customers telling me how our products have transformed their lives.
I am still discovering my favorite Shea Terra products. Unveiling hidden beauty gems is what keeps my candle burning. One product I don’t ever want to be without, Shea Terra’s core product, is Rose Hips Black Soap Face Wash. This wash keeps my skin looking so young and fresh. When I don’t use it wrinkles start to build up on my face. I really love the Kigelia Gob Tree Leaf Mask. It is a 2-n-1 facial cleanser and mask. It lightly exfoliates the skin while producing a light soapy cleansing. It is a leaf straight from nature but highly effective. Best yet it is environmentally safe and provides the women of Somalia money to purchase goods. I am also in love with our Rose Hips Lip Savior. This is an amazing lip gloss sort of conditioning lip balm made from wild African oils like African plum and desert date.
There are several ways I source my ingredients. I have spent more than thirty years learning about beauty rituals from other countries. Some of this was from travels, but usually it was shared to me by friends. Let’s take African black soap for example. I had seen it sold in little bowls by street vendors. But it was a good friend of mine, an elderly African American who traveled frequently to Mauritania, who first got me to try it. He said, “You really need to sell it.” I said, “Oh come in. Does it really work? Does it really do anything?” “Yeah”, he shouted at me. “It gets rid of dark spots on dark people’s skin, and it keeps African men from getting ingrown hair because their hair curls. It removes the dead skin so the hair can grow.” I finally decided to give it a shot and immediately fell in love. Another time I asked my employee from Morocco what the women in his country used for their skin, and he brought me a bottle of argan oil his mother made for him. I also have a large network of people in Africa who go into remote villages to find ingredients I have researched. They purchase the ingredients directly from the women for me. I also work with a number of wild life conservation groups that sell their ingredients to help preserve dwindling habitats. Some of these projects are preserving the Moabi Forest, the Vohibola Forest and a reserve in Burkina Faso with the only growing population of elephants in the world.
Tammie with Girls at the Ghassool Mine in Atlas
Checking Out Kigelia Africana (Sausage Fruit) in Zimbabwe
Tammie Traveling on Nile to Visit Nubian Tribes
The Marula Women of Namibia Throw Tammie a Party
Smelling Cedar in the Atlas
Date Palms of Zaghoura
Calendula Fields in the Nile Valley