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Fashion

A Comeback of Wigs

Founder of Nywele Creative Georgina Kirungo.
Founder of Nywele Creative Georgina Kirungo. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Long hair is a woman’s pride and joy. Who knows this better than Kenyan women who have elevated the wig as a fashion accessory?

From off-the-peg wigs that come in bold colours such as white, candy pink and orange to custom-made ones that are a bit subtle in twisted black braids, the wigs market is booming.

There are tens of upmarket salons where wigs range from Sh50,000, serving the women of means, and then there are downtown shops located in Nairobi’s River Road where traders stitch weaves into fashionable wigs in minutes for as low as Sh3,000 or as high as Sh30,000.

Wigs have made a bold comeback and they have found a significant space in wardrobes of daring women.

Naomi Mbugua, a self-confessed hair extensions lover says she has bought mannequins for her 25 wigs. For her, wigs which were once considered as dirty secrets because of their poor quality or because women wanted to look natural, allow her to protect her hairline and quickly change her look.

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“Weaves can become terribly itchy. With a wig, I can take it off, scratch and soothe my scalp, and put it back on. I can also own an entire wardrobe of wigs that I can change depending on an occasion without the hustle of getting my hair pulled when plaiting,” she says.

The 32-year-old also says that wigs do not get tangled as much, which is why they last longer.

“I just take it off at night, brush it then let it rest on a head dummy {a polystyrene head which have also lined in most Nairobi beauty shops},” she says.

Chinese imports

Ms Mbugua, who works at Kenya Revenue Authority, says she buys her wigs from everywhere. She recently had a friend bring her two from China.

These Chinese imports have also flooded Nairobi’s downtown shops, upsetting businesses owned by entrepreneurs who source for expensive, virgin, Caucasian wigs that cost a fortune.

For Nancy Mwai, a fashion blogger, her collection of 10 wigs give her choice and convenience. “I can easily change my style from casual to formal without spending a lot of money or going to sit in a salon. I love the fact that when it is a bit hot outside I can change my look, unlike with weaves,” she says, adding that she also opts for wigs because they are a cheaper alternative.

“With wigs, I can just keep it away in my wardrobe without having to worry that it cost an arm and a leg. Whenever I’m not feeling it {the wig} I move on to something new,” she adds.

As demand for the wigs increase, hair manufacturers are delivering all colours, cuts and lengths for the diverse market. The hair care industry is predicted to record growth in coming years with Euromonitor International, a market research firm, projecting in its 2018 Hair Care in Kenya report that sales will hit Sh14.2 billion by 2022.

It adds that increased range of products catering for different hair types and concerns, especially among the well-connected young population will drive growth.

Wigs at the Nywele Creative store at the Greenhouse branch

Wigs at the Nywele Creative store at the Greenhouse branch. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

The demand is being fuelled by the young population who are having fun switching from weaves to bold wigs to conservative natural hairdos.

The availability of high-quality wigs and influence from the likes of self-made billionaire Kylie Jenner, a 21-year-old American reality television personality and socialite, who changes wigs on a whim and who is the queen of crazy colours, are some the factors that have helped drive up demand in Kenya.

Kelvin Muchiri who owns Shaleka Beauty store at Nairobi’s downturn says that young women who want funky looks make up for most of his customers.

“Over the past one and a half years, I have seen a shift and 90 per cent of my clients prefer wigs than weaves. They are cheaper, easy to customise and they get the desired look as opposed to weaves. And most hairdressers do not know how to fix weaves properly,” he says.

He adds that most of his customers do not buy one wig.

“Even women with laid-back personalities buy two types of wigs; a formal one and a funky-coloured one with fringes or daring cuts for informal engagements. It’s a win-win situation for both of us since they spend more and they also get more options,” he says.

Mr Muchiri also custom-makes wigs and he takes 30 minutes for his clients to get the braids they want sewn in on the wigs.

“I use closures for braids and that costs Sh8,000 or crotches which are a bit pricey at Sh20,000 because hand-stitching which gives the braided wig a fine look takes a long time,” he says.

Wigs at the Nywele Creative store at the

Wigs at the Nywele Creative store at the Greenhouse branch. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Darling in Kenya

One of the biggest players in the Kenyan hair market, Darling Kenya seems to enjoy the popularity with almost all beauty store brands stocking their products.

Darling has 400 hair products in the market in different colours and cuts and all of them are made in Kenya.

Gaurav Kaushal, the CEO of Godrej Consumer Products, which entered into a partnership with Darling Group Holdings seven years ago, says they have been successful because they understand what a modern Kenyan woman wants.

“We give the latest trend to a woman who plays multiple roles in the society. That is why we have a consumer research wing in Kenya with the sole purpose of understanding the consumer better,” Mr Kaushal says, adding that Darling enables every African woman transform her looks.

They plan to add 36 new hair extensions and 11 wigs.

“Darling is plunging into the wig market, Kenyan women want wigs and we have to comply,” says Mr Kaushal.

Up their game

As wig companies up their game, Nywele Creative founder Georgina Kirungo agrees that understanding the market is key.

She adds that Kenyan women now want they want and know where they can get exactly what they want whether it is buying online from Nigeria, China or Ghana or sourcing locally.

During the interview at her shop on Nairobi’s Ngong Road, Ms Kirungo shows us a wig that a client had just dropped off. The client wanted the front to be filled with more hair and that can be done without her coming to sit in a salon.

“It is so convenient to have a wig, we do after-sale care like weaving or styling for clients,” she says.

The ability to change the look of a wig is what draws buyers to her shop, she says. She dyes them from black to blonde, for instance, or shapes them.

“The beauty with wigs is that they can be flat-ironed, changed colour, chopped in short crops, added bundles to lengthen them. Actually, virgin hair wigs are long-term investments because the lace may wear out which we can fix, but the hair will last you up to five years,” Ms Kirungo says.

She also believes that the demand for wigs has also been galvanised by the move away from relaxers and weaves, known to damage hair and cause receding hairlines.

This has spurred an organic beauty boom as more women go chemical-free, thanks to natural-hair movements. A 2018 report by Euromonitor International says that a growing trend towards natural hair and natural hair styles, and away from treated hair, has led to many women cutting their relaxed hair.

“Women want to enjoy different hairstyles, but also protect their natural hair underneath. And for a long time they were served with nothing but the very basic synthetic weaves. We realised that they want versatility and quality products and we filled that void,” says Ms Kirungo.

“Wigs are now considered the more convenient, cost-effective and healthier option to hair care,” she adds.

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