Identity and the strength of afro hair

FOTO Brunno Rogger

Hair is listed as one of the main elements for expressing the human personality. The colors, cuts, and combing styles convey inherent symbolic messages on individualities. However, historically, black people have not always been protagonists in this billionaire haircare market, a reality that has been changing little by little. This may be due to changes in the industry of cosmetics that nowadays is starting to be viewed through different eyes, or by the consumers themselves, who seek more attractive alternatives for improving self-esteem. “We live in an era of personalization and nowadays, women are looking for a look that fits their type of face, personality, hair, and style. The demand for wavy, curly, or kinky hair has increased considerably, as people wish to express their identity, attitude, and origin”, states the hair dresser Fernando Paolo, one of the most respected beauty experts in Brazil. “Beauty standards are no longer viewed as rules. And due to this, women who desire well-treated hair and achieve strand quality, and then the freedom to show their original wavy style, yet without being forced to adhere to a single pattern”.

Afro hair has its own peculiarities: it is more fragile than Caucasian hair as it grows more slowly and requires specific care. Wigs and braids add style and require little maintenance. But as time goes on, excessive use of some techniques and some products, such as hair straighteners and relaxers, can seriously damage the hair and even cause baldness. “I suffered from considerable hair loss after using all types of hair extensions, due to inadequate usage of these techniques. It was a very difficult moment for me. I started to research on how the great American artists keep those tresses so perfectly. Then, I found the answer that changed my story: the lace wig”, remember Carla Leão, a 38 year business woman, who converted a necessity into a business. She was born in Salvador and nowadays, she is known as Mona Babumbursema, who lives in Barcelona, where she administrates the sale of lace wigs, imported synthetic wigs from the United States, worn by such great international stars as Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Naomi Campbell. “Wigs extraordinarily affect the self-esteem of a woman. They feel stronger and more powerful as their hair is perfect. That makes other aspects latent. They begin to further improve their make-up, be bolder in the way they dress, and consequently this reflects in each one of their lives”, she believes. The greatest majority of her clients (70% according to her) are made up by women who live in Brazil; and secondly, Brazilians and Africans who live in Europe. “Europeans still relate wigs to such diseases as cancer and that hinders insertion”, she reveals.

CRÉDITOS Fernando Apolo

The success of these wigs is due to the reduced cost and also easy placement, as no professional person is required. “It is a cheap product. The most expensive model costs up to R$ 600 (US$193.84). Natural hair can breathe, as it is a synthetic material. “It is not the same as a Brazilian Carnival costume wig, it imitates human hair”, explains Letícia Korndorfer, the entrepreneur, owner of Tress Cabelos. After Letícia lived for five years on the African continent, in Cameroun and Angola, she noticed the difference in self-esteem of Brazilians and Africans. Black women in Brazil, according to her, suffer from lower self-esteem. This motivated Letícia to start a salon in Uberlândia, Minas Gerais State, focused on black clientele for treating kinky hair. “I looked for courses on that type of hair and I could not find anything related to it. I decided to go to the United States, where I took a four month course in a specialized school for kinky hair. But the United States market does not use treatments, but rather wigs”, she tells. “Different from Brazil, where women are more connected to hair extensions and straightening treatments.

After that, she found out about a specialized afro wig dealer who showed Letícia how the Brazilian market was promising because there was a big demand and need for its products. Thus, Tress Cabelos became the exclusive dealer for North American wigs in Brazil. She closed the contract in 2014, and sales began in February 2015. The initial income was R$9 thousand Reals per month. Now, the company is invoicing R$ 100 thousand per month, selling mainly by internet. “And this market is going to continue growing, there is no doubt about it”, she wagers. In fact, Brazil is the second largest consumer of hair products in the world, holding 12% of the market share.

Data from the Cosmetology Laboratory, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences (FCF), University of São Paulo (USP), reports that the hair of the Brazilian population, although there are quite varied characteristics, displays a greater trend towards curliness, ranging from straight at the ends and Afro-ethnic (kinky). As a cultural habit, a woman, no matter what social class she may be, will go to the salon or perform some domestic procedure at least once a month. Hair dying and straightening are the most frequent. But the public, mostly female, have other needs, such as hair lengthening.

Amanda Jesus Rodrigues, 28, a resident living on the outskirts of Porto Alegre, decided to open a small salon in her home to provide services to women who wish to perform a procedure using synthetic and less expensive material and cause less damage to kinky hair. “The hair underneath is the natural client’s hair and it is all braided. The sewed fiber is laid over the hair. She says it is possible to make the client a red-head or blond and there is no damage”, she says. “Most of our clientele here are Afros. But, there are also clients who wish to add highlights, progressive hairdos, those kinds of things. But the space is mostly focused on treating Afro-style hair”. Armanda serves daily from six to eight women. The cost of the labor is around R$ 150 (US$ 48). Including the product, it costs a total of R$ 300 (US$ 96). She uses hair extensions in the salon manufactured in Minas Gerais State.

FOTO Brunno Rogger

Everyone wants Africa

Companies in all continents are interested in doing business with this market segment, with an estimated potential of 100 million middle-class consumers. Godrej, the giant Indian company followed the steps of its compatriots, Marico, Dabur and VLCC, who already have operations in countries such as South Africa, Morocco and Nigeria and so, it decided to jump in with both feet in the African continent. The company which also works in other Asian countries and has operations in Latin America, has on the African continent its largest investment outside of India. Africa contributes 31% of revenues from its international business, which is equivalent to US $ 200 million.

With presence in 16 African countries and the income in increasing in South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Angola, Godrej sells hair extensions, hair cosmetics, hair dyes, and other personal care products besides just the haircare segment. Its umbrella branding includes, such leading haircare products, as Rapidol, Inecto, Frika, and Kinky. In 2011, the company acquired the Darling brand, a leader and pioneer in hair lengthening products. “We manufacture locally and our products are used by 100 million African consumers. Our plan is to gradually acquire the remaining market share in the next five years”, the company informed, through its announcement. Africa is the main market for Indian hair, whose exportation market is estimated at around US$ 393.5 million annually and has displayed an annual growth rate ranging from 10 to 30 percent per year.

In 2015, the US company Strength of Nature, a global leader in the ethnic haircare industry with US $ 700 million annual acquired from Unilever important brands for the African market, such as Motions, Just for Me, Consort, and Groom & Clean. On the other hand,the Boticário Group, a Brazilian giant in the beauty product segment has begun making its presence in Africa, even though timidly, by opening 16 stores in Angola and one in Maputo (Mozambique), selling make-up, perfumes, and haircare products. But it does not discard the possibility of expanding its market presence.

This sector is constantly growing, according to the Euromonitor consultancy. In 2010, US$ 2.65 billion dollars were transacted. In 2015, it registered US$ 4.2 billion in invoicing and the forecast is to reach US$ 5.3 billion by 2020. These statistics only include the haircare market, including 2 in 1 products, shampoos, hair dyes, conditioners, hair loss treatments, creams for permanents, and relaxers, as well as salon products. That is, do not include hair extenders and wigs, the so-called dry hair market.

Although the sector is generally increasing, Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by significant disparities among countries of the region and, and can not be considered as a single market, and this displays various disparities. In Nigeria and Cameroun, for example, a 5% growth rate is expected from 2013 to 2018.In South Africa, a market already considered mature, this sector should not display any increase, but it should continue to be active.

L’Oréal also thinks big on the potential in Africa. This French giant has two industrial plants on the continent, one in South Africa and the other in Kenya, corresponding to roughly half of the products distributed in the Sub-Saharan region, where the company’s fastest growth income comes from popular brand such as Garnier and Dark Amp and Lovely, with iconic purple color packaging.. The growth strategy of the group follows dual actions: Conquer the final consumer on the shelves of drugstores and supermarkets and, also through hair professionals, who advise their clients to purchase its products.

FOTO Bruno Rogger

Firstly, it started investing in the acquisition of local brands, and one of them was SoftSheen Carson. And last July, it inaugurated a research center in Johannesburg for studying specific African characteristics, uniting researchers from diverse fields of study. In the same city, the company runs a training center to train professionals in the sector so they become updated on the latest trends in multi-ethnic hair. The students get management training, so that they can set up their own businesses after learning the technique.

The Brazilian Maggie Rebola, 53, was a student there for 18 months. For 20 years living in South Africa,Maggie brought damaged hair products from Brazil during one of her trips. “It was exactly what I was looking for, as there is a great demand for that type of product. But in the beginning, it was quite complicated, as South African do not like to try out new products. They are still a little hesitant. I almost gave up and closed my salon ”, she tells. “I began to post some of my work in the social network, and then I started getting favorable results. My clientele started to increase, and then I started to spread by word of mouth”. Today, she is known as the Hair Doctor. “Currently, Maggie administrates two spaces — bits of Brazil, as she says: one in Johannesburg and the other in Umhlanga-Durban. “I am completely crazy about what I do, as the greatest payment at the end of each treatment is the smile of satisfaction and the recovered self-esteem from each one of my clients. This is really priceless”, she says.