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For many African women, hair care is a lucrative business as hairdressers, product sellers and importers make up a huge part of  the informal economy in Africa.

According to Reuters, Market research firm Euromonitor International estimates $1.1 billion worth of shampoos, relaxers and hair lotions were sold in South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon alone last year. The dry hair industry which includes weaves, extensions and wigs is also estimated at $6 billion a year.

Although hair culture may vary across the continent, it is certain that women change their hairstyle often. “African women are probably the most daring when it comes to hair styles,” Bertrand de Laleu, managing director of L’Oreal South Africa said in an interview with Reuters.

A walk down the black hair care aisle in any South African store or pharmacy today shows various products on display. The dominant ranges include L’Oreal, SoftSheen Carson, African Pride, Dove and many more; none of which are sadly African-owned.

There are however brands such as Buhle Braids which sources much of its natural hair extensions from India. India is known for its culture of hair collection. The hair is sourced from Hindu temples or village “hair collectors” and then sent to China where it is processed into extensions and shipped to Africa.

Why is Africa not capitalizing here?  It should be possible to locally manufacture much of the hair pieces and hair care products on the continent, reducing our import bill and creating much-needed jobs.

Local make-up brands such as Nigeria’s House of Tara, Kenya’s SuzieBeauty and  Ghana’s Black Secret have shown that it is possible to build a world-class brand in Africa. Their range of products an make up schools are noteworthy initiatives to develop our local beauty industry.

Do you know of any other African entrepreneurs in the hair, beauty and related industries? Tell us about them in the comments section. Also, what other imported items do you think Africa should be manufacturing locally?