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New cosmetics shop in Newark has a focus on African shea butter formula

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Aminata Dukuray, second from left, stands in Newark with Vonda McPherson, Paul Profeta and Michael Vann. Dukuray, McPherson and Vann are Newark-based entrepreneurs who have been helped by the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation.
Aminata Dukuray, second from left, stands in Newark with Vonda McPherson, Paul Profeta and Michael Vann. Dukuray, McPherson and Vann are Newark-based entrepreneurs who have been helped by the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation. - ()

It was about 12 years ago when Aminata Dukuray's young daughter developed a skin condition that caused her to lose her hair — one that didn't respond the typical treatments recommended by doctors.

So Dukuray turned to a home remedy, developing creams with shea butter and herbs like the ones she knew from her childhood in West Africa.

The formula helped heal her daughter’s scalp within days and caused her hair to grow back. What’s more, Dukuray’s friends and neighbors in East Orange took notice of her talent for cosmetics.

“From there, I started selling it,” Dukuray said. “And everybody started buying it and seemed to like it. It worked for them.”

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That was the start of a business, now known as Ancient African Formula, which she has worked to build over the past decade. And the hair and skin care products manufacturer celebrated a milestone last week when Dukuray opened a new store on Halsey Street in downtown Newark.

The retail and manufacturing location is the latest business to open with the help of the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation. The organization was started in 2007 by the West Orange-based developer and philanthropist Paul Profeta, offering mentorship and no-interest loans to minority entrepreneurs around Newark.

For Dukuray, the 1,600-square-foot space in an answer to the struggles she faced as she grew her line of cosmetics. When the Sierra Leone native started selling her products around 2003, using African shea butter, she used cooking pots on her stove and could make only small batches at a time.

Plus, the only time she could make them was when she wasn’t working at her regular job.

“It took me forever to do the products,” said Dukuray, who came to the U.S. in 1991.

But she began making and selling her skin and hair products full-time around 2008. She soon managed to get them on the shelves of several Walmarts in northern New Jersey, with the help of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Rutgers University-Newark.

“As soon I started putting it in Walmart, things started getting better for me, because anywhere I’d go I’d tell them I’ve got a product in Walmart — and they’d take it,” Dukuray said. “That’s how we started spreading out.”

That’s not to say the business had turned the corner. She was still without proper equipment, and she couldn’t always afford the all-important shea butter that she had shipped from Ghana.

That has changed with the help of Profeta’s foundation and some more help from Rutgers-Newark. With Nancy Cantor at the helm as chancellor, the school has donated the space for Dukuray’s storefront at 109 Halsey St.

The foundation, meantime, has helped her with financing for new equipment — a melter, refrigerator, mixer and containers — and a supply of shea butter to last several months.

Having all that in a store she can call her own has made a major difference to Dukuray, whose rate of production can now grow exponentially. And that means she no longer has to take her work home with her.

“I love it. I’m enjoying it, and it makes life easier for me,” she said. “Now I can work here and go home and relax.”

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