The hair and beauty industry is the biggest employer of women in Zimbabwe and, in a tight job market, it is increasingly becoming a big employer of men too.
When it comes to making a living, men put aside their job stereotypes to enter fields traditionally held by women. My family has been in the hair salon business for decades and it was hairdressing salons that paid for my education so I have respect for the industry.
I grew up helping the hairdressers to shampoo hair after school. In those days you could not even apply relaxer on a customer’s head unless you had a diploma and you could not cut a customer’s hair unless you were a qualified hairdresser. City licencing inspectors used to check that every salon had at least one hairdresser who had trained at proper institutions like Harare Polytechnic. Nowadays it is a free for all and you do not even need a salon because people get their hair braided in the open on the side of the road.
With the popularity of braiding, anyone who can braid hair can set up shop and there are no schools that teach hair braiding so as a result many customers end up with damage to their hair due to excess traction with styles that pull on the scalp. The difference between a proper hairdresser and these self-taught stylists is also apparent in their tools because real hairdressers use correct tools, know when to use a vent brush, do not blow-dry hair using a comb and keep a pair of hairdressing scissors, instead of the razor blades which are now a common sight.
These days it is hard to find skilled, veteran hairdressers like Teresa Huber who uses salon products, works in a fully-equipped salon and who gets clients by word-of-mouth. I asked businesswoman Karen Mutasa, owner of the Skin Spa salon chain, which is Africa’s top spa two years running, her opinion of the hair and beauty salon business in Zimbabwe and she responded as follows: “The industry is in such a mess. There is no regulatory body that actually checks on qualifications and training, there are lots of counterfeit products being sold that are causing damage to people’s hair and skin.”
The duties and taxes to import genuine products are incredibly high, they are meant to protect local products, which are non-existent in Zimbabwe so it fuels the counterfeit market to bring in fake and cheap products because the quality products end up becoming ridiculously expensive after all the duties and taxes paid. Advances in organic and natural ingredients the world over are not being enjoyed locally as there is no capacity or education.
Karen also runs a college of beauty under the management of Chido Chitsike where they provide first-class training and offer opportunities for women and men but she says there is still a stigmas attached to working in the beauty industry as parents do not put any value on that particular industry and force their kids to go into law and medicine and finance when their passion may be in hair, beauty and nails. The salon business is a US$3 trillion industry — their daughter or son, with the right training, could be the next brand creator of such products as “Toni and Guy” or “OPI” or “BLACK UP’.
Karen is one of the few salon owners who insists on employing qualified personnel but there are so many salons opening up in Zimbabwe who do not. Many wives of wealthy men in Harare have a business as a boutique or salon owner.
I stopped having pedicures in Harare after I developed a foot fungus so now I go to Miss London Salon in Morningside on my monthly trips to Johannesburg. I have not had regular facials for years after a facial nearly scrubbed my skin raw. When I inquired about the beautician’s qualifications afterwards, I was told me that the guy was still undergoing training.
Now the only time I indulge in facials is when I go on vacation and I try to go to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon on 5th Avenue in New York at least once a year. I stock up on products on my travels so I can take care of my skin myself and try to apply a mask once a month.
I get carried away with buying make-up especially at the company outlet stores where you can buy genuine products at a discount and most of it just sits there unused until I give it away to friends. People are surprised that I do not go to salons often but I just do the bare minimum necessary to look groomed.
Recently, I injured my neck in my boxing session and my doctor told me to go for back massages, so I go to Abigail Mabika for a hot stone massage. I had never used professional make-up artists either until my campaign photo shoot with photographer Tesnim Wazir . I was referred to Latoya from The Makeup Studio who did a great job of enhancing my features without changing my looks, like those Instagram girls.
Thanks to Instagram, there is an upsurge in use of skin bleaching products as African women aspire to be “yellow bones”. I have had requests to bring back skin lighteners for friends when I am travelling, which is disturbing in this days and age. I read a post from a doctor who was shocked to discover women who bleach their babies’ skin in Nigeria!
With black hair, there is a global trend towards natural hair and hardly anyone still relaxes their hair. While weaves, braids and wigs are still popular, many people are opting for natural styles like locks or Afros which has given rise to a whole new industry. I went natural five years ago and it was a challenge to learn how to style natural hair as well as to find products that could keep my coarse hair soft and manageable.
The US has a lot of natural styling products which had me travelling back with heavy luggage on each trip. Luckily many of these products are becoming available now in pharmacy chains in South Africa. Locks are expensive to maintain as stylists charge a lot of money to twist hair. Jabu Stone pioneered the dreadlock salon business in South Africa and South Africans are the best in the world at styling locks.
Most loctitians are men and a lot of prominent people who have locks in Harare go to a salon owned by my family, where there are popular loctitians. The salon has a long relationship with media personalities who get their nails done by technician Caroline Sibanda and the latest trends hairstyles by Gloria. People used to make a fortune in Zimbabwe by selling human hair weaves, especially Brazilian hair, and extensions but now the market is flooded so profits are low.
Back in the day when curly perms and relaxers were popular, my family had a factory in Graniteside which manufactured aftercare products, including oil sheens and curl activators. The factory was eventually mothballed due to raw material shortages and today the biggest challenge facing local manufacturers is that their products end up being more imported products due to high input costs.
There are a few manufacturers producing niche like marula oil which are popular for skin and hair-care that can only be found in Africa so there is an opportunity to grow that market the way that shea butter took off in West Africa.
Finally, the one sector of the beauty industry which is experiencing growth is that of cosmetic procedures. Zimbabweans are catching on the latest global trend of having botox and other “lunch-time” procedures where they can get an injection of a filler to eliminate wrinkles during a quick visit to the doctor.
Dr Summeiya Omar is both a medical doctor and a specialist in youthfulness who shares a busy practice on Enterprise Road with Royal Maurini spa. While I have one or two Black friends who have succumbed to plastic surgery, for breast enhancement, botox is more popular within the White community.
In South Africa, young women are having plastic surgery at a younger age and I blame it on the Kylie Jenner Khardashian phenomenon. Social media and the selfie craze is putting pressure on young girls to look perfect. Globally, make-up houses are selling more make-up, celebrities are starting their own make-up brands and, looking into cosmetic chains like Sephora, it is apparent that the beauty business just keeps on growing.
Peters is a business and investment consultant. — Twitter:@debbienpeters and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org