In Africa, much like the rest of the world, hair plays a significant role in society. In ancient Africa, it symbolized one’s family background, social status, spirituality, tribe, marital status, and fertility. Today, it continues to hold similar significance around wealth and wellbeing.
The business of hair in Africa however has changed dramatically. About a decade and a half ago, dry hair – weaves, extensions, and wigs – was almost unheard of on the continent.
As of 2014, however, the “dry hair” market was estimated to be worth as much as $6 billion a year. While recent figures are not available, analysts say that the market has ballooned since.
According to Bertrand de Laleu, managing director of L’Oreal South Africa, “African women are probably the most daring when it comes to hairstyles”. “West Africans change their hair most consistently”, he explained. They also spend the most money on human hair. Nigerian singer, Muma Gee, once boasted that she spends 500,000 naira ($3,100) on a single hair piece.
Connections to China-Africa Relations
The focus in China-Africa relations tends to be on loans for infrastructure projects and trade for natural resources. In a growing trend, the focus is turning to Chinese technology in African markets. But aspects of African culture, including its hair/beauty culture, is a point of significant connection between China and Africa that is rarely discussed.
China is the biggest exporter (video) of hair products in the world. According to the South China Morning Post, Africa is the second-largest destination for Chinese wigs, making up 37 per cent of the overall market, just behind the US’s market share of 39 per cent. The Chinese city of Xucheng has become the hub for hair processing with the industry’s main player, Rebecca,valued at $2 billion a year.
Rebecca Hair operates in over 20 countries in Africa and the African market is particularly important for the company and accounts for about half of the company’s overall revenue; in 2017 African revenue reached 884 million yuan (138.1 million U.S. dollars).
For human hair, although the hair is sourced from Hindu temples or village “hair collectors” in India, it must still be sent to China where it is processed into extensions and shipped to Africa.
The Way Forward For Africa’s Hair Market?
Market researchers say that the $6 billion figure for Africa’s hair market is easily an underestimation.
In 2014, market research firm Euromonitor, $1.1 billion of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold in South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon alone last year, and these figures do not even account for Africa’s informal hair market.
Reuters reported that, “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”.
Seeing the opportunity, many Africans are beginning to take hold of the market, through hair manufacturing. Nigerian company, Amigo, produces everything from wigs and weaves to human hair extensions in Africa’s most populous capital, Lagos. Ghanaian company, Ninash Company Limited, is on record as Ghana’s first manufacturer and distributor of synthetic hairpieces and has been in operation since 1994.
Researchers say that it is possible to locally manufacture much of the hair pieces and hair care products needed in Africa on the continent, reducing the continent’s import bill and creating much-needed jobs.