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Wigmaker stays ahead of trends

Updated: 2014-07-11 09:41
By Li Lianxing in Lagos, Nigeria ( China Daily Africa)

Wigmaker stays ahead of trends

Henan Rebecca Hair Products Co Ltd has built its business on wigs being considered a necessity in many African women's daily life. Provided to China Daily

Having the most stylish head of hair is big business in Africa

In Africa, it can be a significant part of everyday life and as a result, represents a not insignificant part of the local fashion industry.

The world's largest wig producers have recognized this, and numerous factories have been set up by international investors.

Like any part of the fashion sector, wig styles come and go, and Wang Junqi, the general manager of Rebecca Fashion Ltd in Nigeria, says China can offer the women of Africa the very latest.

Henan Rebecca Hair Products Co Ltd became the first hair products company to list on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2003.

It now has subsidiaries in London, Chicago and in Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, and justifiably claims to be one of the world's top wig makers.

Wigmaker stays ahead of trends

"We have research teams specifically focusing on Europe, the United States, and, of course, the African market.

"There is no clear African leader in this market, so we have to carry out our own research on what's doing well in the industry. We have to observe the market and produce all the wig styles ourselves.

"Our research teams come here to investigate the market numerous times a year, and thanks to their efforts, we are leading the trends in Africa and many local companies are actually following us," he says.

Wang adds that designing a wig is like designing any other fashion product: It needs exhaustive market research.

Rebecca researchers spend time with local hair stylists or hair salons to observe local trends.

Sometimes they even go to remote villages to check demand from different types of people, says Wang.

But feedback from European and US markets also is a crucial indicator for local fashions because many African consumers still have a strong interest in pursing Western trends, or following Western celebrity styles.

"For instance, we have had a large demand in Nigeria to produce the styles worn by Rihanna, the Barbadian recording artist, actress and fashion designer," Wang says.

"So we have to provide at least 2,000 different designs every year.

"But clearly that's too big for the general market to consume, so we select the best 10 to 20 designs every month and then adjust our numbers based on market reaction.

Whether rich or poor, a wig is considered a necessity in many African women's daily life, but price and demand depend on the individual.

"Based on our research, the average African woman changes her wig every five days to a week, but in some circumstances, that can be every month," Wang says.

"So our prices vary depending on quality and style."

Rebecca's Nigerian products range in price between 200 local naira ($1.23) to more a couple of hundred thousand, but the most popular products cost between 1,000 and 2,000 naira.

"Apart from the normal market, we also have high-end products," Wang says.

"Many rich consumers demand a private shopping environment and tailored styles, so we also have six high-end salons in Nigeria now."

He says a completely hand-woven, real-hair wig can cost more than 100,000 naira.

Wigmaker stays ahead of trends

Launched in 1995 in Xuchang, Henan province, Rebecca's initial ambitions were domestic, but the business grew fast and it started looking overseas, opening in Nigeria in 1999 to become the first Chinese wig producer on the continent.

"It wasn't until 2005 that another Chinese competitor came here, and now there are 40 Chinese wig companies registered in Nigeria alone, leading to the creation of the Chinese Wig Companies Association in 2009, of which Rebecca is the current president," Wang says.

Nigeria is the center of its operations on the continent, given its relative economic stability, although the currency is prone to fluctuation, he says.

"Nigeria is the most influential country in western Africa, and has the biggest population. The Lagos wholesale market radiates right across the region and so it's important for us to be based here."

The company also has small subsidiary companies in Ghana, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Kenya.

"Between 30 and 40 percent of our total sales in Nigeria go to neighboring countries," Wang says.

To satisfy growing demand and also localize its manufacturing, Rebecca set up its first factory in Nigeria in 2004, and then another in Ghana in 2008.

"Localization of our manufacture is a priority and we are investigating a new factory site in southern Africa. Zimbabwe was our first choice but due to its sluggish economy, we are now looking elsewhere, probably Namibia.

"The African operation has more than 1,000 workers. But we are not producing all our products locally as some complicated techniques must be done still in China," he says.

Rebecca's products are mainly made of two kinds of raw material: real human hair and synthetic fiber.

For the "real" option, the hair comes from abroad, while only standard synthetic fibers can be produced locally.

"Producing some more specialized synthetic fibers can require very high quality water as well as cool temperatures, and those are difficult in Nigerian conditions," he explains.

"The other difficulty is that our high-quality US machines can't be shut down when they are in the middle of production, so any minor malfunction can destroy everything."

His ultimate goal is to have a complete production line in Africa, but at the moment he does still rely on imported material.

"But our sales operation is nearly completely localized, including our sales managers and some senior managers, and we are confident that our manufacturing will also be fully local before long."

Rebecca's revenue has increased tremendously in the 15 years since it opened, but Wang says it is still determined to create a truly international brand, using its own technology.

"The power of the brand is vital, and that's our most valuable asset for the future - I know we can build that not only in Africa, but right across the world too."


(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/11/2014 page14)

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