The aesthetics that come with women's hair is of great value to those who believe in having that. The dictates of fashion, to a certain extent, lie more in the hair business. Wigs, weaves, braids, and all other sorts of extensions which are used by African females. There is a fair amount of flair that comes with such fashionable hairstyles.
The continent has always been reliant on hair manufactured and processed in other continents. Natural and synthetic hair flooding Africa is valued by women. India has dominated this field for many years. But its grip on this lucrative area is loosening to the ever opportunistic China. Natural and synthetic hair from India is gradually being taken over by that from China. India used to be such a dominant player, but Africa seems keen on paying attention to China's knocks. And China's knocks on Africa's door have been getting answered.
The hair business is vastly profitable. The competition between India and China in this regard is very much reasonable. There have not been official reports on the whole value of the black hair business in Africa, but in South Africa alone, the black hair industry was estimated at $450 million by a Euromonitor report from 2015. It speaks volumes about how much profit this business brings in. If one country's black hair business stands and the mentioned value, what of other countries on the continent? A lot, really!
China entered the black hair market stealthily in 2000, and ever since they have grown to dominate the market. Much of the hair in Africa now, natural or synthetic, may come from India, Brazil, the US and elsewhere–but travels via China, where it has been assembled, processed and exported. This alone makes China a very big player, and they take the bigger piece of the cake when compared with other countries, in this instance, India.
Despite this dominance, the label "Made in China" still carries with it some negative connotations. Hair extensions with this label are viewed in negative perceptions. There were reports once that the hair bundles coming to Africa from China sold off as natural hair also contained animal hair, from goats and yaks. In Senegal, where Quartz Africa carried an extensive report of the black hair business, one of the salon managers in Dakar said Chinese products were "less desirable" to clients while Indian and Brazilian products were welcomed in a positive manner.
"Everyone wants hair extensions, fillers, sew-ins, or braids—even the veiled ones," said Gianna, who asked to be identified by the nom d’art she uses as a hairdresser at Deguen Chimere Salon, in Point E, a residential neighborhood in Dakar. "We buy in packets," she said, showing plastic wrappers containing thick wads of hair, priced from 1,500 to 25,000 CFA (from $2.60 to $45) according to quality and length—all of which are packaged in China. Most women will need about two or three packets, with hairstyles lasting about two months, she explains.
However, almost all of the products are clandestinely labelled "Made in China". Dominance, right there. Almost all of the hair products in Senegal are all made in China. Even the ones coming with Brazilian style packaging. All China made. The packaging may indicate that particular black hair product being Indian, Brazilian, or US, but the fact is that they will be discreetly written "Made in China".
But because no one looks carefully at what's really written on the package, they come to a solid conclusion that they are dealing with Brazilian, or Indian products. The clients detest knowing that hair products are made in China. "They think it is bad quality and will make them look cheap."
The fact is that they are all using black hair products made from China. And that, right there, is how China has overtaken India to become the dominant player in the low-cost hair extensions business in Africa.
Header Image Credit: Reuters/Pilar Olivares