Brisk trade in Zambia with women′s hair | Africa | DW | 04.01.2017
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Brisk trade in Zambia with women's hair

Black haircare is a multibillion dollar industry with women spending substantial sums on hair weaves and extensions. In Lusaka, Zambia, weaves are so widespread that you hardly ever see a natural head of hair.

In the Central Business District in Zambia's capital Lusaka, there is a shop which sells nothing but hair weaves and extensions.

"Zambian women love these things," customer Chilufya Chisense tells DW. "We have got stubborn hair, when you put on those things, it actually becomes easier to maintain, unlike using your own hair."

Chisense is a big fan of Brazilian hair. But it doesn't come cheap. Brazilian hair extensions can cost around 5,000 Zambian kwacha ($500, 480 euros). It is a lot of money to have wrapped around your head. And it's not just the initial outlay than can be a burden on a slender budget. Zambian university student Kaniki Pirscilla told DW she spent "about 300 Zambian kwacha" maintaining her weave."

Own hair

Eznat Banda sells hair weaves and extensions in Lusaka. Business is booming. "Zambian ladies can't do without weaves. It has become so common that you can't go a day or two without putting on a weave," she said.

There are, of course, women who prefer their own hair. In Zambia, they include Precious Kaniki "I think I'm in love with my natural me. It's easy for me to maintain my hair, I just have to bathe, put some Vaseline on and it looks nice."

But what do Zambian men make of all this? "When you use weaves, I believe you are losing your sense of originality," one man told DW. "If it makes them feel good or presentable, there's nothing wrong with that," another said.

Brisk trade in Zambia in women's hair (DW/C. Mwakideu )

Hair weaves and extensions are a familiar sight on the streets of the Zambian capital Lusaka

Eznat Banda believes men's opinions are not necessarily important, but she has the figures at her fingertips nonetheless. "Actually I don't think that matters. One out of ten men would prefer having a girl with natural hair," she said.

 Some view black haircare as a purely personal affair. Others point to related issues of gender and female empowerment. But few can overlook that vast sums of money that are changing hands.   

Half a trillion dollars

According to Huffpost Style, data released by the Anglo-Dutch group Unilever, which has made recent investments in the black hair industry in Africa, women in South Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria alone were spending billions of dollars on hair extensions.

The market research firm Mintel has forecast that the black haircare industry in the United States would be worth $761 million in 2017.

In 2012 it put the size of the market at $684 million, but admitted that this was a conservative estimate.

"What's missing from these figures are general market brands, weaves, extensions, wigs, independent beauty supply stores, distributors, e-commerce, styling tools and appliances. If all of those things were to be taken into consideration, expenditures could reach a whopping half trillion dollars," the market research firm said.


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