Africa's haircare boom

Africa's haircare boom


Sitting in a makeshift salon, a client has her hair braided in Soweto – a common sight not only in South Africa, but in countries across the continent where hairdressers are often a fixture of markets and taxi ranks.

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 .

. Johannesburg, South Africa. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Although 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.

. ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Euromonitor’s figures do not include sales from more than 40 other sub-Saharan countries, such as Cote d'Ivoire, where 20-year-old Toure Fatoumata is pictured above.

They also do not cover the huge "dry hair" market of weaves, extensions and wigs crafted from everything from synthetic fibre to human or yak hair. Some estimates put Africa's dry hair industry at as much as $6 billion a year.

. ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

In many countries across the continent, haircare is an important source of jobs for women.

In the image above, a woman holds her baby in front of her beauty salon at a shantytown in Cote d'Ivoire.

. SOWETO, South Africa. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

While many hairdressers in South Africa are informal businesses, like the makeshift salon pictured above, the country’s haircare industry has also attracted a number of major global firms.

The French cosmetics giant L'Oreal this year opened what it billed as South Africa's first multi-ethnic styling school, training students of all races on all kinds of hair, something that would have been unthinkable before the end of apartheid in 1994.

Anglo-Dutch group Unilever has a salon in downtown Johannesburg promoting its "Motions" line of black haircare products, and niche operators are springing up in the booming dry hair market.

. ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

There is a strong demand for hair care in countries from Cameroon to Cote d’Ivoire, where 20-year-old Bandele Kadjatou poses in the picture above.

According to Bertrand de Laleu, managing director of L'Oreal South Africa, while South Africans change their hairstyle often, West Africans do so even more.

"African women are probably the most daring when it comes to hair styles," he said, noting that dry hair - almost unheard of a decade ago - was a growing trend across sub-Saharan Africa.

"Suddenly you can play with new tools that didn't exist or were unaffordable."