"Naturalistas": The versatile business that is black hair

by Tendai Dube 0

The multi-billion black hair industry is reaping from a growing movement - “Naturalistas”, a transition from the straight back to the curly.

The business of black hair has become a multibillion dollar industry ranging from the oils, weaves and wigs that contribute to it, however recent trends have revealed a growing movement – the “Naturalistas”, a transition from the straight back to the curly.

These are women who prefer to grow and wear their natural hair, a trend that is spreading fast in a world, where for years, wearing your hair straight, with the aid of chemicals known as relaxers, hot combs and even synthetic or human hair extensions has been accepted trendy.

Market research firm, Euromonitor International estimated that approximately $1.1 billion of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold across South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon in 2013 and anticipates Africa’s liquid haircare market could grow by about 5 per cent by 2018 in Nigeria and Cameroon.

This excludes the huge “dry hair” market of weaves, extensions and wigs made from synthetic fibre, yak hair or human hair which is estimated to bring in over $6 billion a year, or the 40 or so other sub-Saharan countries’ sales.

But in Nigeria and around the world that appears to be changing, CNBC Africa spoke to African businesswomen in the hair industry to unpack the growing industry and what it means to wear your own hair naturally.

“Right now in Accra, if your hair is not natural then you don’t know what’s up, I think we are slowly taking over and people that are natural now, are seen as bold, as the ones that are trendy, that are different, unique and stand out,” said Ibinabo Amakiri-Usoroh owner of Fro-Nation.

Ifedinma and Uzoma Ofoma are sisters and co- founders of Nuna Naturals, taking advantage of the business opportunity brought forward by the natural hair trend by manufacturing and selling homemade hair products for African hair.

“When you carry your own hair, you are confident – you just have an air around you and people look at you like ‘this girl is confident and she is not ashamed of who she is,” said Ifedinma Ofoma, co-founder of Nuna Naturals.

Fro-Nation owner Amakiri-Usoroh thinks the natural hair trend is growing and will someday become more popular than chemically straightened hair or weaves.

“I think we are taking over gradually, I think the weave is going to go into the background in the not too near future,” she said.

Wearing your hair naturally used to be seen as religious in Nigeria but today the perception is not so one dimensional, sometimes the change is made for the health of their hair, using chemicals and other hair straightening methods damage hair and sometimes stunt hair growth.

The hair industry had previously been thriving on the need for African women to find ease and convenience in more manageable hairstyles and textures than their own.

However, wearing your hair naturally is not always easy, “Our hairs are not very long and they are stubborn – to comb is a problem, so for me I just think the extension is easier and better,” said a woman donning a weave.

Having straighter hair versus natural hair is a debate that has transcended through all fashion and beauty eras for black women – one of them being of how wearing extensions are an attempt to look more westernised.

“We are finally coming out of our shell, carrying your own natural hair is difficult, especially when there has been this established look for what is beautiful, even among African women,” said Ifedinma.