* Multi-nationals target Africa haircare business
* Market estimated at billions of dollars a year
* Hair extensions fastest growing sector
By David Dolan
ABUJA, Aug 6 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.
Some estimates put Africa's dry hair industry at as much as
$6 billion a year; Nigerian singer Muma Gee recently boasted
that she spends 500,000 naira ($3,100) on a single hair piece
made of 11 sets of human hair.
Haircare is a vital source of jobs for women, who make up a
large slice of the informal economy on the poorest continent.
But business in Wuse market has slowed recently, said
37-year-old Josephine Agwa, because women were avoiding public
places due to concerns about attacks by Islamic militant group
The capital has been targeted three times since April,
including a bomb blast on a crowded shopping district in June
that killed more than 20 people.
"The ones that don't want to come, they call us for home
service," she said as she put the finishing touches on a
six-hour, $40 style called "pick and dropped with coils" -
impossibly small braids that cascade into lustrous curls.
Nigerians are not alone in their pursuit of fancy locks.
"I get bored if I have one style for too long," said Buli
Dhlomo, a 20 year-old South African student who sports long red
and blonde braids. Her next plan is to cut her hair short and
dye it "copper gold".
"It looks really cool. My mum had it and I also had it at
the beginning of the year and it looked really good," said
Dhlomo, who can spend up to 4,000 rand ($370) on a weave.
While South Africans change their hairstyle often, West
Africans do so even more, said Bertrand de Laleu, managing
director of L'Oreal South Africa.
"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
The French cosmetics giant 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.
While the South African hair market remains divided, salons
are looking to boost revenues by drawing in customers across
ethnic groups, meaning hairdressers who once catered only for
whites will need stylists who can also work on African hair.
L'Oreal is looking to build on its "Dark and Lovely" line of
relaxers and other products with more research into African hair
and skin and has factories in South Africa and Kenya producing
almost half the products it distributes on the continent.
HAIR FROM INDIA, VIA CHINA
Nor is it alone. 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.
"We supply anything to do with dry hair, across the board,"
said Kabir Mohamed, managing director of South Africa's Buhle
Braids, rattling off a product line of braids, weaves and
extensions that use tape, rings or keratin bonds.
Today there are more than 100 brands of hair in South
Africa, making the market worth about $600 million, he said,
roughly four times more than in 2005.
Much of the hair sold is the cheaper synthetic type and
comes from Asia. Pricier natural hair is prized because it lasts
longer, retains moisture and can be dyed.
India's Godrej Consumer Products acquired South
African firm Kinky in 2008 and sells synthetic and natural hair,
including extensions, braids and wigs.
Buhle Braids, like its rivals, sources much of its natural
hair from India, which has a culture of hair collection,
particularly from Hindu temples or village "hair collectors".
The hair is then sent to China where it is processed into
extensions and shipped to Africa. Hair from yaks, to which some
people are allergic, is now used less.
In one clue to the potential for Africa, market research
firm Mintel put the size of the black haircare market in the
United States at $684 million in 2013, estimating that it could
be closer to $500 billion if weaves, extensions and sales from
independent beauty stores or distributors are included.
What is certain is that Africa's demand for hair products,
particularly those made from human hair, is only growing.
"It hurts, but you have to endure if you want to look nice,"
said Josephine Ezeh, who sat in Wuse market cradling a baby as a
hairdresser tugged at her head. "Hair is very, very important."
($1 = 10.69 South African Rand)
($1 = 160.95 Naira)
(Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga in Abuja and Siyabonga
Sishi in Johannesburg; editing by Philippa Fletcher)