Frequently changing hairstyles are helping haircare grow into a multi-billion dollar industry in Africa. It's still largely based in the informal economy, but now global giants like L'Oreal and Unilever are also involved. Joel Flynn looks at how hairdos can mean dollars.
On the streets of Abuja, the difference between what's hot and what's not can be just a hair's breadth. A big deal when's there's a lot at stake. Women in Nigeria can pay up to 40 dollars for a new do - a hefty sum in a country where many live off less than two dollars a day. But that's a cost hairdresser Josephine Agwa says they're willing to shoulder. SOUNDBITE: Hairstylist, Josephine Agwa, saying (English): "If I look ugly will you like me? You will not like me. Yes, I am married and my husband wants me to tidy in on myself, so hair is very important and hair is a beauty of a woman." Euromonitor International estimates over $1 billion of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold in South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon alone last year. That's not including sales from more than 40 other sub-Saharan countries. Or the huge "dry hair" market of weaves, extensions and wigs. Some estimates put Africa's dry hair industry at as much as $6 billion a year. Now big business is getting its hands on the market. Bertrand de Laleu is Managing Director of L'Oreal South Africa. SOUNDBITE: L'Oreal South Africa Managing Director, Bertrand de Laleu, saying (English): "South African women change their hairstyle between six to 12 times a year, so the average is 8, so imagine if you compare to Caucasian or an Asian woman is total difference ritual and culture. And they move from straight hair, to dreads, to braids, to extensions. They colour the hair sometimes with fancy colors, so they are very, very daring." It's not just L'Oreal getting involved. Anglo-Dutch group Unilever has a salon in downtown Johannesburg to take advantage of business that pours out onto the streets. Women aren't only spending on haircare either - they're also earning from it. The industry provides a vital source of jobs, especially for those working in the informal economy. As companies and consumers have their heads turned by wigs and weaves, Africa's haircare industry looks likely to grow and grow.