Industry observers agree that South Africa is is the largest hair care market in Africa. According to W24, a beauty and styling website, while the research on the black hair care industry is limited, available information indicates that relaxing remains the most popular treatment in South African salons, accounting for about 80% of all business. Local market leaders in hair relaxing are multinationals such as L’Oréal, which owns Dark and Lovely; Unilever, which has Sunsilk and Motions; and Amka, which touts Sofn’free.
L’Oréal is reportedly looking to invest in its black hair care brands, build on its line and conduct more research into African hair care and skin care, according to W24. L’Oréal has factories in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, which produce nearly half of the L’Oréal products that are distributed on the continent.
Styling is second to hair relaxing. When it comes to African hair, styling refers to braiding, hair extensions, dreadlocks, bonding and their infinite variations. There are more than 100 hair brands in South Africa, the bulk of which are the synthetic types imported from Asia. There is a growing demand for more natural human hair, which is imported mainly from India, Peru and Brazil.
Many international brands and products are used in black hair salons, which are often locally-owned. According to a report by the South African government, salons catering for African hair in the South African market is estimated at 40,000, and only 3,000 of these cater to “non-ethnic hair.” These figures most likely exclude informal salons within homes.
Bridging the Gap
South Africa’s Huffington Post reports that although South Africans still heavily rely on relaxers, the global trend is toward natural hair. Other websites and reports indicate that this trend is also significantly increasing in South Africa.
“In the US, the natural hair movement accounted for a 19% drop in relaxer sales between 2013 to 2015,” notes Mintel. “Both early adopters and big brands in the South African market are seeing big gains in the sector and are moving quickly to fill the available services and product gaps.
Taryn Gill, founder of a local hair care product line called The Perfect Hair, says “The natural hair movement is part of a rising global wellness consciousness. We’re eating organically [and] are more conscious about the ingredients in our skin and hair care products.”
The Natural Hair Movement
There are several reasons behind the growth of the natural hair movement. One is the global trend of “chemical-free” solutions, another is the increase in black consciousness among Millennials. Gill was an early adopter in the South African market. She loves natural hair and she started by importing natural hair products from the US, created a website and started selling them locally.
“There was a glaring gap in the market. The products I brought in sold out so fast, showing a huge demand that gave me the confidence to look for other opportunities in the hair space,” she said.
Gill capitalized on the momentum to collaborate with a local biochemist who formulated a hair care product range that was tailored to African hair and climate. Carice Anderson, an African-American living in Johannesburg and a popular columnist and commentator on natural hair, has created a one-stop natural hair e-commerce platform called Adore Hair and Beauty.
“When I moved here from the US five years ago, seven out of 30 black women in a room would have natural hair. Now, that number would probably be closer to 15,” she said. “I used to have to bring in my products from the US in bulk, but now you see so many product ranges available.”
Candice Thurston is founder of Candi&Co, a salon franchise targeted at black women.
“Globally, women of color aren’t getting the services they deserve. My challenge was: how do we create services for black women where they walk in and get the same service as white women get when they walk into a salon? As a woman of mixed race, this was personal to me,” Thurston explained.
Commenting on the state of the South African economy, Gill says that the consumer crunch and economic downturn doesn’t really bother her. She knows that women would rather buy off-brand sugar and milk than substitute on their beloved beauty products.
According to Thurston, the natural hair movement has legs.
“Candi&Co is only about 40% of where I want us to be with our academy and salons.” She said. “I believe the natural hair market will become bigger than the relaxer and weave category. There’s so much to do in this space.”
Raymond Chimhandamba is founder and director of Handas Consulting (Pty) Ltd. He has 20 years’ experience in the FMCG sector in Africa region and experience in launching and building FMCG cosmetic and personal care brands in Africa. Chimhandamba is an internationally published FMCG expert and a thought leader in the hygiene sector in Africa, an international speaker and a mobile tech enthusiast. He is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org