Modern work is changing rapidly, spearheaded by the COVID-19 pandemic. People are finding alternative, creative ways to sustain themselves and build careers outside of traditional models. One alternative pathway is the beauty industry--namely the business of weaves, wigs and hair extensions. Growing demand for high-end human-hair extensions and wigs across North America and Europe will create new opportunities in the global economy. The market is a niche, yet profitable one with a high return on investment. According to a forecast by Research and Markets, the market is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion by 2023, growing at a “CAGR of approximately 9% during 2017-2023.”

Hair wigs and extensions businesses benefit from being location-proof. For the most part, these businesses can be run remotely and almost entirely through social media. Skyrocketing demand from consumers of African descent, coupled with increasing social media visibility, makes consumers more open to sourcing hair entirely on the Internet. Additionally, contacting vendors from India and China (the countries with a majority stake in the global hair wigs and extensions economy) is a fairly quick process, requiring little more than a Whatsapp number and a plane ticket. Online channels are not the only way of outsourcing human hair--some wholesalers also provide human hair through direct-to-consumer websites like Alibaba and Aliexpress. Human hair is expensive; however, an increase in demand has increased the affordability of wholesale product so manufacturers are able to score quality product as a competitive price. An accessible and affordable supply chain, as well with strong demand from a niche client base, makes hair wigs and extensions a very lucrative industry.

This is also a business of increasing visibility. In the past decade, there has been an emerging trend of promoting wigs and hair extensions via social media platforms. Social media apps like Instagram have adopted integrated shopping functions, allowing businesses and hairstylists to sell wigs and extensions directly to the consumer. Selling hair using online distributions channels is relatively pain-free--and so is the art of wig making. The trade can be picked up quickly and can be entirely self-taught. Many independent hairstylists build platforms and digital business through social media. A client base can be built rapidly, with opportunities for entrepreneurs to diversify into in-person instalment services, wig making and other customisations. Despite its monopoly in the African diaspora, the majority stake in global hair wigs and extensions remains in Asia. The distribution and wholesale of human hair are largely run by Indian, Chinese and Korean investors, with black hair business owners often pushed out in a largely unregulated and insular market. The nonprofit BOBSA, or Black-Owned Beauty Supply Organisation, was founded for the sole purpose of mobilising black wholesalers in the hair wigs and extensions market.

So, how can African entrepreneurs take advantage of the hair industry? Using social media and wholesale vendors remain the safest and most profitable method of starting a hair & wig business. Vendors can be sourced either through Internet platforms like Alibaba, Aliexpress or independent sellers through Whatsapp. Once the product is secured, wig makers can grow their business using social media apps, primarily Instagram. Some entrepreneurs can even use Youtube to showcase their products and gain a following from there. For those interested in selling hair only (and not hair products like wigs) can also build a following by providing bundles to women, using their locality and proximity to the customer as a unique selling point.

Hairdressing is a certified “recession-proof” market. It has been found to be one of the few expenditures consumers consider necessary during times of economic uncertainty. A trade such as this is always a way to ensure a stream of income during both stable and unstable times. Furthermore, the business of hair wigs and extensions is growing rapidly, with a dedicated client base ready to pay top dollar for quality. The global market for hair wigs and extensions should not be overlooked. It is a viable alternative to more mainstream sectors and an industry needing to be profited by those who it profits from.

Mayowa Oluwasanmi