In Africa, haircare becomes a multi-billion dollar industry

Wed Aug 6, 2014 1:22am EDT
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By David Dolan

ABUJA (Reuters) - With all the skill of a master weaver at a loom, Esther Ogble stands under a parasol in the sprawling Wuse market in Nigeria's capital and spins synthetic fibre into women's hair.

Nearby, three customers - one in a hijab - wait for a turn to spend several hours and $40 to have their hair done, a hefty sum in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.

While still largely based in the informal economy, the African haircare business has become a multi-billion dollar industry that stretches to China and India and has drawn global giants such as L'Oreal and Unilever.

Hairdressers such as Ogble are a fixture of markets and taxi ranks across Africa, reflecting both the continent's rising incomes and demand from hair-conscious women.

"I need to braid my hair so that I will look beautiful," said 25-year-old Blessing James, wincing as Ogble combed and tugged at the back of her head before weaving in a plait that fell well past the shoulder.

While reliable Africa-wide figures are hard to come by, market research firm Euromonitor International estimates $1.1 billion of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold in South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon alone last year.

It sees the liquid haircare market growing by about 5 percent from 2013 to 2018 in Nigeria and Cameroon, with a slight decline for the more mature South African market.

This does not include sales from more than 40 other sub-Saharan countries, or the huge "dry hair" market of weaves, extensions and wigs crafted from everything from synthetic fibre to human or yak hair.   Continued...

A man prepares wigs as he waits for customers in downtown Johannesburg, August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko