Mind the - hair - gap

Rihanna’s makeup line, Fenty, shook the beauty industry to its core when she launched her 40 brilliantly formulated shades of foundation ranging from very fair to very deep. Why did this cause such an uproar? Just days after the launch, the darker foundations completely sold out, thus debunking a huge common industry myth (which many of the big brands still claim) that darker shades of makeup simply don't sell. 

Finally, voices have been heard in the fight to diversify the range of products on offer in the makeup industry. And this is making the hair industry look seriously out of step. 

Black women spend an inordinate amount of money on their hair, more so than any other demographic group, and yet the majority of mainstream hair brands still cater solely to Caucasian hair. 

The root cause

When it comes to hair salons, the problem continues. Generally speaking, most Caucasian hair stylists don't know how to deal with Afro and Asian or multi-textured hair types unless they trained in a place that offers Afro hair training. Many salons have to refuse customers with Afro hair as they don’t have any stylists experienced in working with it. This needs to change right now, starting at the beginning, with stylists’ education. Training for Afro hair has long been a completely separate module from the basic British hairdressing NVQ (training qualification). Until recently, students had to pay more to learn to do Afro hair. When you’re a young student with limited funding, extra modules aren’t likely to be on the top of your spending agenda. This was the case for me, sadly. I wish I could turn back time and change this.

As someone whose best friend’s husband is of African descent, with dual heritage children and grandchildren, I have been lucky to have always worked around Afro hair. I was basically self-taught and because their hair isn’t what I would call pure Afro – there is definitely some Caucasian hair in the mix – I can apply most of the hair products that you find in high street salons. When it comes to true Afro hair, African or Caribbean, it’s a different ball game completely. What I have learnt over the years is you need to treat this hair type with even more respect than Caucasian hair as it is typically fragile and dry; the curls in the hair strands hinder the scalp’s natural oils from reaching the ends of the hair.

Let’s get straight to the point

Of course, most women with fAro hair want straight, shiny, smooth, bouncy hair which is practically unachievable on this hair type. This is where chemical hair relaxers come into play and although I have done it, it is not something I am comfortable with, simply because I have such little experience in this field. Plus, I will admit there is a little bit of fear as well. The main ingredient in hair relaxers is sodium hydroxide, which has a ph not fair off that of hair removal products like Immac. Black women will tell you stories of burnt scalps and broken hair from poorly applied chemical straighteners relaxers. On top of that you’re then going to start colouring it and weakening the hair even more, putting this hair type under such incredible stress. You just can’t go running around with tubs of bleach. This is why Afro hair is such incredible specialised area in the hair industry. It tends to be monopolised by the black community, simply because they know their own hair type and how to look after it correctly.

A stitch up

Due to many of the above issues with this hair type, the weave culture is huge – and simply fabulous. Basically, you canerow your own hair and then stitch on the hair of your choice. I love it. Naomi Campbell is a perfect example of this. She is known for her love of wigs and weaves. Tina Turner is another one. Most of the iconic black women in the entertainment or modelling industry use weaves and wigs as a method of choice and self-expression. I find this whole area extremely interesting, but I think I would have to live all over again to have the time to be any good at it. Wouldn’t it be fab to say to my client, I’m going to stitch your hair on. You want long blonde hair today, no problem, sit down.  Imagine not having to stick bleach on and blowing the hair apart, then picking it out of the plug hole because the hair snapped off. All you do is get a big bag of hair, plait the hair to the scalp and stitch it on – bingo. 

The beauty battle

As incredulous as it sounds, it is actually nearly impossible to buy products for Afro hair in mainstream stores. Particularly styling products. Most salons also don’t stock the correct products and they need to be specially ordered. For the most part, hair products for Afro and multi-textured hair are relegated to beauty supply outlets in localities that are deemed “ethnic”. On the coast you will find these stores only in Fuengirola. The mind boggles at how so many hair care brands ignore an entire and large group of people because their curl pattern doesn’t quite fit the original products. The hair industry has become hugely stagnated and very segregated. Why does Loreal not launch an exclusive range for this hair type?  The company is normally so good at responding to market demand. They have the science, technology and little people in white lab coats at their fingertips, and you’re telling me they can’t come up with something that works? 

The new wave

The only solution is for the big hair brands to step up and become more inclusive with their products. But the real key is to start at the beginning, with training. Afro and textured hair should not only be mandatory when taking your NVQ but should be given as much attention as the other basic hair types, not just a two-day gloss. This would mean that the next generation of hairdressers will be able to deal with all hair types, and women and men of colour could walk into any salon and get the same excellent service as everyone else.