Big hair, big business

2014-11-23 15:00

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We are Africa’s largest hair care nation – and the market looks set to keep growing. ­Gugulethu Mhlungu breaks down the black hair industry’s commercial trends

Before deciding to go bald in 2006, I made an enormous contribution to the hair care industry by buying thousands of products and spending hundreds of hours relaxing, washing and trimming.

I cannot count the number of conversations I had with my mother and grandmother about the state of my hair. Or the endless conversations about hair at my various schools. I often heard the phrase “beauty is worth suffering for” as the relaxer or hairdryer started burning my scalp.

I can, however, quantify the 12 or so hours it took to braid my hair that one time when I was seven or eight and how I vowed to never do that again.

I’ve also lost count of the (significantly fewer but still substantial) hours and rands I have spent since 2006 on shaving my head. Even without it, I can’t seem to escape paying for my hair.

You could argue that the hair care industry is up there with prostitution as one of the oldest on the planet. Hair is big business, and is going to be for a long time.

Billions of rands

The global hair care product market hit sales of R750?billion in 2010, and is forecast to reach just shy of R1?trillion by 2015 – sales of shampoos and conditioners will be the biggest contributors.

It is estimated that there are 10?000 new products introduced to the market annually.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that estimates put Africa’s dry hair industry at R66?billion a year.

South Africa’s black hair care industry is estimated to be valued at R9.7?billion a year, and was in 2010 considered to be the largest in Africa by The Professional Hair Care Market SA 2010 report.

Relaxer nation

Research on the hair care industry is limited, but it suggests that relaxing remains the most popular treatment in South African salons, accounting for an estimated 80% of all business.

South Africans can choose from a variety of products for treating and maintaining relaxed hair.

The leaders in the local hair relaxing space are multinational companies such as L’Oréal (Dark and Lovely), Unilever (Sunsilk and Motions) and Sofn’free. L’Oréal is reportedly looking into building on its line with more research into African hair and skin, and now has factories in South Africa and Kenya that produce almost half the products it distributes on the continent.

The globe on your head

Second to hair relaxing is the very broad category of “African styling”, which is used to refer to braiding, hair extensions, dreadlocks, bonding and the infinite variations of these.

Today there are more than 100 brands of hair in South Africa, the bulk of which are the synthetic kind from Asia. There is also a growing demand for more natural human hair, which is sourced largely from India, Peru and Brazil.

South African firm Kinky, which sells synthetic and natural hair, including extensions, braids and wigs, was acquired in 2008 by India’s Godrej Consumer Products. Brazil, India and China remain the leading suppliers of synthetic hair for South Africa.

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

Safer products

Twenty years ago, Jabu Stone entered the local market with a range aimed at providing what was then the lack of hair care products for dreadlocks – a first of its kind for South Africa that revolutionised hair care in the way Herman Mashaba’s Black Like Me did for permed hair in the 70s.

Jabu Stone has continued to grow its product offering and salon franchises.

Seeing another opportunity, Johannah Moriti has established JO’M Cosmetics, which claims to be the first in South Africa to manufacture natural, chemical-free products.

Moriti, who is trained in analytical chemistry, wanted to make a product that would work effectively, but as she did more research, she realised the synthetic chemicals in relaxants strip and destroy the structure of black hair.

JO’M is intended for the treatment of curly hair and Moriti has been surprised by the flood of interest from customers.

Her products are also safe for use on children and people who are prone to skin conditions such as eczema.

Euromonitor, in its June 2014 report titled Hair Care in South Africa, reports that “ethnic consumers in South Africa are increasingly demanding products that are less damaging to their hair; women particularly are shifting towards natural hair styles that are chemical-free and are trying to grow their hair out”.

Major manufacturers have seen this area as an opportunity for growth and now offer herbal or non-synthetic chemical options in their ranges, such as Sofn’free’s GroHealthy and Dark and Lovely’s Amla Oil offerings – giving the likes of Jabu Stone and Johannah Moriti big competition.

The salon space

In contrast to the vast quantities of international products used in South Africa’s black hair salons, the ownership of the salons has largely been local.

The number of known salons catering for black people is estimated at 40?000, and about 3?000 cater for “non-ethnic hair”. The figures most likely exclude informal salons in homes.

The salon space is highly competitive, given the number of alternative suppliers, which is great for consumers who have a variety of options and prices to choose from.

It also remains one of a handful of industries with looser barriers to entry. It might be easier to get into owning a salon, but it’s still a tough space to get into with high set-up costs for products and equipment.

The Sorbet Group, a national franchise that has spa and dry bar services, has recently ventured into the black hair care market with Candi & Co, which says it is “South Africa’s first franchised ethnic hair salon that delivers world-class hair care services that are accessible, affordable and authentically beautiful”.

Candi & Co aims to revolutionise hair care by promoting healthy hair alternatives through consultations that map long-term hair recovery programmes for damaged hair. It also offers an entrepreneurship programme for new and existing salon owners looking to go into the franchising business.

Whether this foray into the salon business by large established companies is a good or a bad sign is debatable, but it speaks to a space that still seems to have place for new providers.

The future

There is no doubt that the hair care industry in South Africa, and Africa, is going to keep growing. There is no shortage of people needing to get their hair relaxed, braided, cut, washed, conditioned, weaved and dreadlocked on our rapidly urbanising continent.

The size of the black hair care market in America provides a clue for the potential of Africa’s own hair care market.

Reuters reported earlier this year that the value of the American market stood at R7.5?billion in 2013, estimating that it could be closer to R5.5?trillion if weaves, extensions and sales from independent beauty stores or distributors were included.

And considering how underreported the trade data are for the sector, it is possible that big hair is bigger than we think.

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