Hair industry blooms in Africa

HARARE - African women from three countries reportedly spent about $1,1 billion on hair extensions and hair maintenance, news that has been received by others with awe.

According to a recently published report, the three countries surveyed were South Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria.

African hair care business has become a multi-billion dollar industry that stretches to China and India and has drawn global giants such as L’Oreal and Unilever.

“The liquid hair care (shampoo’s, crème relaxers and moisturisers) market is expected to grow by about five percent from 2013 to 2018 in Nigeria and Cameroon, with a slight decline for the more mature South African market.

“This does not include sales from more than 40 other sub-Saharan countries, or the huge “dry hair” market of weaves and extensions,” the report goes on to say.

It is interesting to note that a tiny fraction of the world’s poorest continent spends over a billion dollars in hair products, alone.

The psycho-social ramification of wearing weaves tends not to weigh heavily on the minds of teenagers who encompass the average age when extensions are first tried.

Nowadays almost everyone likes “Remy Virgin hair” and this leaves one wondering if the liquidity crunch being experienced by Zimbabweans has spared the hair industry.

For many black women, the perception of having “Beautiful Hair” is an embedded part of their core being. Some cannot and will not be seen without weave despite the high cost.

Margret Kaseke, a Harare-based counsellor who routinely advise women on issues ranging from self-esteem, hair issues, depression and body image says the need to have weaves comes from mainstream media where the media influence people’s choices. White beauty has become the order of the day in African countries since most black people imitate their Western role models.

Silky long hair and an overly slender silhouette are all associated with white beauty.

This, Kaseke says, has led to some Zimbabwean women suffering from “white” disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

“It is not surprising that we have these alarming statistics. Most women will do anything to look good. I have some clients who have eating disorders and it is unusual in Africa since its most associated with the whites. The media is playing a major role in changing behaviour and it looks like it has got a magic bullet effect on the audiences,” Kaseke said.

The human global hair trade is a growing — and very lucrative — industry. With sales exceeding $12 billion a year, women are sacrificing in order to buy the expensive hair extensions to achieve the desired look.

Some women believe those who wear weaves have low self-esteem and need to work through their issues.

“We have so many deep-rooted issues that we need to overcome in our community to finally make ourselves whole. It’s a shame when we choose to concentrate on trivial things.

“Clearly spending so much on weaves shows these women are out of control and governments need to force them to accept their natural look by imposing hefty duty on these products,” said Rungano Zvevhu, a Harare-based lawyer.

Although the survey in question did not do consultations in Zimbabwe, the surge in Remy hair on Zimbabwean market is a close indicator that the country has also joined the hair race.

For those who wear the extensions and weaves — the price seems worth the sacrifice. And the psycho-social condemnation does not register.

Maita Dube, a Bulawayo-based student says she wears human hair because of the quality it offers.

“Beautiful hair is expensive and you have to be willing to part with a lot of money for the sake of looking nice. It suits my lifestyle well, I can wear it many times and I feel it is worth every cent,” Dube said.

Some find the idea of wearing their hair the natural way “unbearable”.

“No, this has nothing to do with inferiority complex or self-esteem, it is just that for some African women believe leaving hair the natural way causes headaches.

“Women who are advocates of natural hair should stress the importance of choice. Natural hair might be your pet project, do not present it as anything more than that, it is a matter of individual choice,” said Kudakwashe Gonzo, a Harare-based businesswoman.

Since the craze for Brazilian weaves, Chinese weaves and even human hair amongst black African women — with a large demand from Nigerian women — many African men and some women have condemned this as a sign of inferiority complex.

It is becoming mundane to come across yet another post from fellow women and some self-styled “Real Africans”, questioning the choice of black women who use chemicals on their hair.

Sentiments like these are unfortunately gaining ground amongst black women.

But other women say they prefer their natural hair.

Hair stylist, Nadia Peters says she finds it hypocritical for some women to criticise those spending a fortune on extensions.

“I find it hypocritical that some black women condemn other black women for wearing weaves.

“You claim any African woman who wears weaves is suffering from low self-esteem and not a real African, yet you make this claim while batting your false eye lashes, clawing with your fake nails, standing menacingly in your high heels, your pouting lips covered in red lipstick and your heaving boobs heavily supported by a Victoria secret’s padded bra. In what universe are these accessories African?” Peters said.

Most hair stylists do not dabble in the weave controversy, but just view weave placement as just another avenue to crafting a clients’ look that best fits with her lifestyle.

Aquiline Sibanda, a Harare-based hair stylist said when she works with weave what remains paramount in her mind is maintaining the overall quality and strength of the clients’ natural hair and scalp.

She says clients should ask their beauticians which extensions to buy since improper weave placement leads to baldness.

“Clients should inquire with their stylist so that they know the repercussions of placing extensions. Children should not be getting weaves due to the pressure on the scalp.

“However, these figures you tell me about just reveal that women are more concerned with their looks. Do you have an idea how much men spend on beer for instance?

Just because women are doing it to look good people make all this noise?” Sibanda said.

Imagine if someone injected $1,1 billion of foreign direct investment into Zimbabwe, how many sectors of the economy would it revive?

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa recently chided the country over its insatiable hunger for consumable imports, and it goes without saying hair products fall
into this category.

According to Chinamasa, 70 percent of the country’s import bill is entirely consumable imports.

“It is a fact that beauty in Africa is still long, silky and straight hair coupled with a light complexion.

“I am sure the same institution that released these figures will come up with interesting figures if they examine how much African women spend on skin lightening products,” said Alice Twalumbe, an author and social commentator.

Comments (3)

i dont see any problem in using weaves and braids they just improve one's beauty and no one is forced to buy them so if dont want them just keep your natural hair

shatrisha - 5 September 2014

kana usina mari yeweave hauna,, siya isu tinayo tichene.ko ndozvaapoka

popo - 10 September 2014

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ASIAN HAIR INC.INDIA - 26 August 2015

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