Tag: hair

Haircare share: Africa’s multibillion-dollar cut

With all the skill of a master weaver at a loom, Esther Ogble stands under a parasol in the sprawling Wuse market in Nigeria’s capital and spins synthetic fibre into women’s hair.

Nearby, three customers – one in a hijab – wait for a turn to spend several hours and $40 to have their hair done, a hefty sum in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.

While still largely based in the informal economy, the African haircare 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 .

Hairdressers such as Ogble are a fixture of markets and taxi ranks across Africa, reflecting both the continent’s rising incomes and demand from hair-conscious women.

“I need to braid my hair so that I will look beautiful,” said 25-year-old Blessing James, wincing as Ogble combed and tugged at the back of her head before weaving in a plait that fell well past the shoulder.

While reliable Africa-wide figures are hard to come by, market research firm Euromonitor International estimates $1.1-billion of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold in South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon alone last year.

It sees the liquid haircare market growing by about 5% 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, extensions and wigs crafted from everything from synthetic fibre to human or yak hair.

A man prepares wigs as he waits for customers in downtown Johannesburg on August 5 2014. (Pic: Reuters)
A man prepares wigs as he waits for customers in downtown Johannesburg. (Pic: Reuters)

Some estimates put Africa’s dry hair industry at as much as $6 billion a year; Nigerian singer Muma Geerecently boasted that she spends 500 000 naira ($3 100) on a single hair piece made of 11 sets of human hair.

Informal economy
Haircare is a vital source of jobs for women, who make up a large slice of the informal economy on the poorest continent.

But business in Wuse market has slowed recently, said 37-year-old Josephine Agwa, because women were avoiding public places due to concerns about attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

The capital has been targeted three times since April, including a bomb blast on a crowded shopping district in June that killed more than 20 people.

“The ones that don’t want to come, they call us for home service,” she said as she put the finishing touches on a six-hour, $40 style called “pick and dropped with coils” – impossibly small braids that cascade into lustrous curls.

Haidressers attend to clients in Lagos, Nigeria. (Pic: AFP)
Haidressers attend to clients in Lagos, Nigeria. (Pic: AFP)

Nigerians are not alone in their pursuit of fancy locks.

“I get bored if I have one style for too long,” said Buli Dhlomo, a 20 year-old South African student who sports long red and blonde braids. Her next plan is to cut her hair short and dye it “copper gold”.

“It looks really cool. My mum had it and I also had it at the beginning of the year and it looked really good,” said Dhlomo, who can spend up to R4 000 rand ($370) on a weave.

Daring styles
While South Africans change their hairstyle often, West Africans do so even more, said Bertrand de Laleu, managing director of L’Oreal South Africa.

“African women are probably the most daring when it comes to hair styles,” he said, noting that dry hair – almost unheard of a decade ago – was a growing trend across sub-Saharan Africa.

“Suddenly you can play with new tools that didn’t exist or were unaffordable.”

The French cosmetics giant this year opened what it billed as South Africa’s first multi-ethnic styling school, training students of all races on all kinds of hair, something that would have been unthinkable before the end of apartheid in 1994.

While the South African hair market remains divided, salons are looking to boost revenues by drawing in customers across ethnic groups, meaning hairdressers who once catered only for whites will need stylists who can also work on African hair.

L’Oreal is looking to build on its “Dark and Lovely” line of relaxers and other products with more research into African hair and skin and has factories in South Africa and Kenya producing almost half the products it distributes on the continent.

Hair from India, via China
Nor is it alone.

Anglo-Dutch group Unilever has a salon in downtown Johannesburg promoting its “Motions” line of black haircare products, and niche operators are springing up in the booming dry hair market.

“We supply anything to do with dry hair, across the board,” said Kabir Mohamed, managing director of South Africa’s Buhle Braids, rattling off a product line of braids, weaves and extensions that use tape, rings or keratin bonds.

Today there are more than 100 brands of hair in South Africa, making the market worth about $600-million, he said, roughly four times more than in 2005.

Much of the hair sold is the cheaper synthetic type and comes from Asia. Pricier natural hair is prized because it lasts longer, retains moisture and can be dyed.

India’s Godrej Consumer Products acquired South African firm Kinky in 2008 and sells synthetic and natural hair, including extensions, braids and wigs.

Buhle Braids, like its rivals, sources much of its natural hair from India, which has a culture of hair collection, particularly from Hindu temples or village “hair collectors”.

The hair is then sent to China where it is processed into extensions and shipped to Africa. Hair from yaks, to which some people are allergic, is now used less.

In one clue to the potential for Africa, market research firm Mintel put the size of the black haircare market in the United States at $684-million in 2013, estimating that it could be closer to $500 billion if weaves, extensions and sales from independent beauty stores or distributors are included.

What is certain is that Africa’s demand for hair products, particularly those made from human hair, is only growing.

“It hurts, but you have to endure if you want to look nice,” said Josephine Ezeh, who sat in Wuse market cradling a baby as a hairdresser tugged at her head. “Hair is very, very important.”

Beauty and the weave

(Pic: Flickr / Viqi French)
(Pic: Flickr / Viqi French)

It is Wednesday afternoon in Gaborone and I am having a bad hair day. I head into town to see my hairdresser for my monthly haircut. I have deliberately set my appointment for midweek to avoid the mayhem that happens on weekends in the hair salon. As I stride in, behold, four beautiful ladies ALL getting their weaves on. There was a rather colourful assortment of hair pieces ranging from black Brazilians to blond fringes. It suddenly dawns on me that the legend of the weave ladies might be true after all: they prefer visiting the salon smack in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work. Reason? Their obsession with the weave has cost them their hairlines and so they do not want anyone but their hairdressers to witness the calamity that has hit their pretty heads.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery.  We live in the “hair piece” era and in Botswana many young women do not grow their hair naturally anymore, but instead go out of their way to wear hair that belongs to Brazilians, Peruvians, Malaysians, Mongolians and many other nationalities on their heads. What happened to good old dreadlocks, the afro or even plain straightened hair which can be braided every now and then? Why do we want to imitate members of other races when the African race is so beautiful? Are we losing our identities to the weave craze? Have we been corrupted into conforming to mainstream standards of beauty and femininity, believing that we can’t be beautiful if we wear natural hair? Fake it til’ you make it is the motto.

Being a member of #TeamNatural, chances of me donning a weave are slim to none. I will admit that I did try it out once, out of curiosity. And it is suffice to say my affair with the hair piece ended a week later. I just couldn’t stand the itching and the constant head-patting. It felt like dozens of mosquitoes had purchased real estate on my scalp! And the inability to scratch made it even worse. So I decided to leave it to other ladies, concluding that experience has taught them to handle the discomfort better.

I have no problem with the weave; I just have a problem with natural hair being vilified. Are we going to pass down negative perceptions of black hair to generations after us so they become ingrained in our children’s mentality to the point where they will be accepted as simple truths?

For many black women, the weave is probably the next best thing after high heels. In many parts of Botswana, especially the urban areas, the weave is not just a trend, it’s a lifestyle. It looks really good and boosts a girl’s confidence if sewn on right, making her look and feel like an African queen. The problem is the hair looks so fake it could melt under the merciless Botswana sun.

From itchy scalps and patchy hair loss, these inventions not only cause premature balding but they cost big bucks. The men say they hate it – for two reasons: 1) they want to be able to run their fingers through a woman’s hair without their hand being smacked and 2) 80% of the time they have to pay for it.

I asked one of my friends who has embraced the weave craze about her choice. She said the appeal of it lies in how it makes her feel – sexy, stylish, expensive. “You don’t look basic. And going to the salon often to get it done is one of the few ways of pampering myself, just like getting my nails done or having a massage,” she explained.

Most races – Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanics etc. –  have no problem wearing their hair as is, but in black culture it’s looked upon as subversive. That’s not to say that other races don’t change or play around with their hair (white women wear weaves and call them extensions). However, it becomes concerning when we measure self-worth by what kind of hair we wear – or don’t wear.

Maybe one day, we African women will evolve to a level where we are proud of dark skin and nappy hair; to a level where society deems wearing natural hair as a progressive statement for everyone – not just for poets or the “artsy” or “afrocentric” types. Maybe one day our hair in its natural state will be a symbol of African pride.

Rorisang Mogojwe is a features writer in Botswana. 

The barbershops of West Africa

Andrew Esiebo is a Nigerian photographer whose photo essay, Pride, is an exploration of barbers and their shops across seven West African countries. He captures the spaces in which barbers operate and looks at the aesthetics of their shops.

Pride was recently featured in the New York Times’ online magazine Lens, and ten of his prints have been added to the permanent collection of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Côte d'Ivoire.
Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Esiebo chatted to Voices of Africa about the barbers, their shops and the hairstyles he shot.

How did the barbershop project come about?
The idea for Pride came about during a street photography project I was doing in Lagos. While photographing people on the street, I stumbled upon a barbershop and started talking to the owner. He said to me that while he might not be considered an important person in the society, he was proud to be the barber to one of Nigeria’s ex-presidents. That resonated with me and made me think about the role, and importance, of barbers in West African society. I thought about the idea for several years and in 2012, following an artistic award I received, I was able to develop the project. I travelled to several West African cities and looked at the relevance, and the role, of the barbershop in the city.

Liberia. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Liberia. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

What can you tell us about the role that the barber plays in West African societies?
Barbers help people to gain an identity. Some people have to have the right cut to project who they are. The way they look, through their hairstyle, influences the way they feel about themselves, the way people see them and address them.

Barbers are also influential because their shops are what I call “public intimate spaces”. People share their problems in conversation with the barber. The barbers learn a lot from this, and this knowledge is then shared with other customers.

So, barbershops are not only a place for cutting your hair but a space where people meet, where they come to relax and discuss issues; a space where relationships are built, business deals are sealed and where intimate subjects are often discussed.

Mali. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Mali. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Which barbershops were most interesting to you?
The barbershops I found most interesting were those which displayed icons, religious images, pictures of hip-hop artists, posters of soccer teams and icons of global black culture. There was a shop in Mali where the guy had posters of [Osama] Bin Laden and [Muammar] Gaddafi next to pictures of President Obama. I found this contrasting use of icons interesting. The barber said that, on the one hand, Bin Laden and Gaddafi were his heroes while on the other hand Obama is a global symbol of black power. For a black African to be the president of the US is something to be proud of, he said. So he named his shop Barack Obama Coiffure. There were many others I found interesting too.

Hairstyles. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Hairstyles. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Tell us about the hairstyles.
Many of the hairstyles offered by barbers were similar, inspired by football stars or hip-hop icons in America. While the hairstyles themselves overlapped, their functions differed, depending on the country.

In Senegal or Mali, which are restrictive Islamic societies, a hairstyle can be a way of making a social statement, while in Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, that same hairstyle can be a way to get attention from the ladies.

There was one particularly eclectic one from Senegal, worn by a barber.  I asked the guy why he barbered that style for himself. He told me: “You know, this is a very conservative society but through my hair, I have the freedom to express what I want”.  I really fancied that. He was rebelling against the conservative nature of the society.

Benin. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Benin. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Were there any regional or national differences across the barbershops you photographed?
To be honest, I did not find many regional or national differences in barbershops across West Africa. In fact, I found them very similar. There also was unity in the hairstyles themselves; unity in the language of using your head to talk.

Sure, there were differences in the names of the styles but many of the styles were the same. It shows how globalised or how connected the world is today. Many of the styles come from the same influences:  Western media.

Côte d'Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Are you exhibiting Pride at the moment?
No, but I hope to exhibit this project across West Africa and beyond. I am still looking for an organisation to support the exhibition. I would also like to publish a book on the project because I think this is an important part of our culture that needs to be documented. It has to be celebrated and shown around the world.

Ghana. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Ghana. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

What is your next project?
I will be looking at the nightlife of Lagos and beyond through the eyes and lives of DJs. DJs at parties, DJs in concerts, DJs at various ceremonies. I want to use DJs, who are an integral part of our nightlife, to depict life in Lagos.

Senegal. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Senegal. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Any advice for aspiring African photographers?
I think the only advice I can give is for them to work hard, to be passionate about what they do, to never give up and always be ready to learn new things. Keep pushing and open your horizons. You’ll go places with that.


African hair styling in China

Congolese couple Martha Makuena and Paul Levy moved to China over a decade ago to work. In 2012 they opened the first African hair salon in Beijing. It’s located in the Central Business District and thriving from the support of other immigrants and locals. The couple has plans to open up branches in Shanghai and Guangzhou in the next few years.


Beauty salons and the beast

There is a new kind of man on the streets of Tanzania’s biggest cities. In Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Mwanza, these men wear designer clothes, shoes, belts, bracelets, rings and chains. They talk about their new Calvin Klein jeans and Fila shoes and see no problem in buying a pink floral shirt and wearing it with light-blue sneakers. They do not bother with the big Tanzanian musicians. It is Hollywood names that roll off their tongues as if they were speaking about a neighbour.

These men, who work for private companies or non-governmental organisations that pay them well, leave work early on Fridays so they can rest before starting another shift in the nightclubs, where they drink expensive cocktails instead of beer. You can smell their expensive imported fragrances from several metres away. You will find them with a Blackberry in their left hand and an iPhone in their right.

Spending a lot time at their local barbershop has become a must for these metrosexual men, for whom a simple haircut without oiling, massaging and scrubbing is just not enough. Gone are the days when men would get their hair cut or their beards trimmed by an old man with a mirror, a bench and a chair under a big tree. No, our metrosexuals spend more time in barbershops than women do in beauty salons.

Because of the metrosexual, the modern barbershop seems to be one of the fastest-growing businesses in the cities. A friend of mine recently sunk about R40 000 to open one in an upmarket suburb in Dar es Salaam. He has no doubt that in the next few months the business will pay him well.

From the interior of these modern shops, you get an idea of the services provided and what they cost. The nicer the place, the more expensive – and expansive – the selection. But in most you will find a big flatscreen television – or two, depending on the size of the shop – to entertain those waiting their turn. A fancy sofa and a music system are essential, as is a shelf full of creams, oils, powders and other male-centric beauty products.

The basic service is, of course, the cutting of hair and the trimming of beards, which are done by male barbers. The customer can decide whether he prefers to have his beard shaved with a razor or with “magic powder”. This special mixture is used with water and is more expensive because it leaves a man’s cheeks softer that a razor and it can take up to four days before the beard starts growing again. A normal haircut can set you back R15 but using the magic powder costs you double.

After the barber is done with his customer, a beautiful young lady will approach service available on the menu.

“Are you scrubbing?” she will say in a very polite soft voice. Any man will agree to the proposal, even if it sets him back another R8.

The scrubbing process starts on the face and the neck and usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. And then, as a customer waits for the next step, the girl will ask again: “Brother, what about your nails? Would you like a manicure and a pedicure?” Another R5 for each of those services. At the end of all this, a man will be taken to another small room with sinks for the cleaning process. The young lady washes the customer’s head and face before applying creams and sprays.

Women do not really like the idea of their partners going to these new barbershops. After all, the beautiful women in cute outfits who work at the barbershops might easily steal their partners from them. Some women wait outside for their partners to finish so that they can protect them from the beauticians. They might be right in one way or another. The young women try hard to make sure that they keep their customers happy so that they are left with a tip after the service.

Still, every modern woman in Tanzania would die to have her very own metrosexual man. Most of them do not mind having men who look as beautiful as them. After all, their good looks do not come cheap and the metrosexual man has the flash and the cash to keep the barbershops, and his woman, smiling.

Erick Mchome is a 2011 winner of the David Astor Journalism Award. He lives in Dar es Salaam. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper.