African consumers worldwide (Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas and Europe) share a strongly held conviction that they have not been well served by the mainstream haircare industry. They (i.e., people with African type hair) feel they have been ignored – and thus underserved – by an industry developed to meet Caucasian haircare needs. This matters because their numbers are growing: the many millions of first generation consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, people of African descent and the multicultural populations in the Americas and Europe.
Necessity being the mother of invention, dissatisfaction has created many believers in, and formulators of, traditional and home made haircare products. For example, leading ethnic hair care experts in Canada argue that, in terms of innovation at least, corporations now lag behind consumers. The kitchen is proving more creative than the company laboratory. A number of these mixes now provides the inspiration for own brand and product lines for specialist supply stores and salons, the springboard to the wider market.
Consumer behaviour is also undergoing changes. The rise of the natural in African haircare is having a profound impact on a market traditionally dominated by chemicals. This development is here to stay because it is underpinned by a deep worldwide consumer shift away from chemicals in personal care, combined with rejection of long-established chemical relaxers. The era of the chemophobe consumer has arrived.
No one is arguing that relaxing will be eliminated any time soon, but consumer preferences will force change on products formulated to control/manage curls, and on hair straighteners – all with high levels of chemicals. There are interesting implications here for the mega brands whose sales are mainly in the chemical relaxer category. The value of the relaxer market explains why many companies ignored consumers’ other haircare needs for so long.
Online is facilitating change at each and every level of this haircare market. The online has created a new bloc of power brokers or “go to” people, who are consulted for information on products and hair fashions. Online tutorials bring expertise and know-how within the reach of millions of women and transform their expectations of products. Premium and niche brands are also the major beneficiaries from direct to consumer channel as an entry point to this fast growing growing market.