Hair to stay

2014-01-31 10:00

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Black money should benefit black communities

It is time for black businesses and consumers to come together to work on creating bigger businesses that spread the wealth within the black community, and I think protecting the black hair industry is the place to start.

This thought was inspired by Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, but its actuality was pronounced by a press release I read last week.

What Good Hair reminded me of is the Spider Web Doctrine that author Chika Onyeani writes about in his book Capitalist Nigger. Some people have rubbished the book, but it points to some very painful truths about the way the economy is organised at a local level as well as globally. The economy is organised in cliques, which are racially based.

In Good Hair, we see that the human hair industry is controlled by Koreans and Chinese, and they shut out black entrepreneurs even though one of their biggest markets is the black market.

In Good Hair, we see how in the US the industry that manufactures and supplies black hair products, from relaxers and hair lotions to hairspray, are majority controlled by white-owned companies such as L’Oréal, which have been buying up these businesses.

In America, the only area in the black hair-care industry that is majority owned and controlled by blacks is the salon. It’s pretty much the same in South Africa, but now that is being challenged.

The Sorbet group, which is a rapidly growing, white-owned business that operates a national franchise of stores providing beauty treatments like massages, manicures and facials, is expanding by starting an ethnic-salon concept that will also be franchised.

This white-owned business called candi&co is, in its own words, “set to revolutionise the ethnic hair-care market with an exciting, new franchise model?…?which aims to formalise the local ethnic hair-care market by providing a premium, accessible and affordable service for ethnic women”.

It will accomplish this by using stylists who the company will train using products made by white-owned companies like L’Oréal and Ladine.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the white man or other racial groups looking for ways to make money from black people. It has been like this for centuries and is how fast-growing, highly profitable businesses like Capitec are making money.

So it’s no surprise that in South Africa, and in the rest of Africa, the hair-care industry is dominated by either white or Asian companies.

But when I read that the white man now wants to go into the salon business, a sector that has sustained and still sustains generations, I felt like we needed to act.

For years, we’ve been talking about the difficulty that black businesses experience in operating in the current economic structure that is mainly white owned. For years, we’ve been complaining about the lack of big business ownership and the limited opportunities given to black people to climb the ladder in corporate South Africa, but in areas where we could act, we have done nothing or have not thought big enough.

There are many high-end, black-owned salons in the country, so why haven’t they come together and formed a chain or franchise model that would protect this sector and keep it in black hands? That’s how other groups work. They always work together.

There are many black-owned salons in the country, so why haven’t they come together and formed a chain or franchise model? Picture: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press

The black salon sector is now going to be challenged or usurped by the white-owned Sorbet group with its strong brand, deep pockets and business networks, which will make it easy for it to grow in all the malls across the country, which are also white owned.

I think this is a crying shame. But it is not too late. Black entrepreneurs can still come together and build a national business chain/franchise salon model, form uniform standards and a uniform brand, and experience and take on this candi&co.

This can also be applied to other business sectors where black money is spent but where the multiplier effect benefits other races. Clothing retailers can come together to source and buy stock, and start their own individually owned but nationally directed franchises to take on retail chain giants that survive thanks to black consumers.

We already know what is wrong with the economy. We already know how we are shut out from participation and ownership. We can complain all we want, but the owners will not change the way things work because they benefit from the current structure.

We need to take action as consumers and as business owners to ensure that every rand we earn and spend circulates in the black community for as long as possible.

Currently, most of the money we earn and spend immediately leaves our community, where it would benefit more families and create more jobs

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