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Lifting the lid on human hair wigs

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Natural hair imported from countries such as India, Brazil and Peru is for sale at the Bella Zara hair boutique in Illovo. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - South African women are forking out thousands for Indian, Brazilian and Peruvian human hair to get “the look”.

But as they pay up to R3 000 for hair extensions, their biggest expectation is that they will instantly look like their favourite celebrity and their biggest concern – yes, you guessed it – is that the wig will fall off during sex.

Among the celebrities admired for their imported hair are local TV presenter Bonang Matheba, with her shiny weaves, and US songstress Beyoncé, who wears blonde human hair.

But why the trend and so-often obsession to wear hair that once belonged to someone else?

Leandra Jansen van Vuuren, co-owner of the Bella Zara hair boutique in Illovo, says that during apartheid, South Africans were isolated and didn’t know about human hair imports. African women saw dreadlocks, braids, perms and cornrows as the only options.

And whites would only wear their own hair, she adds, saying that international media and the opening up of the world scene resulted in the booming hair market.

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Synthetic hair. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

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“People’s role models have changed. It’s now about the cars you drive, the hair and the bling you wear,” she says.

It often costs R3 000 or more to wear human hair, the Saturday Star found when it approached several outlets for the wigs and weaves.

Jansen van Vuuren says her shop stocks triple grade-A human hair imported directly from India, Brazil and Peru. The hair, bought from a single supplier, starts at about R450 a packet.

Human hair pieces and wigs are easy to maintain and women in high-powered positions appreciate that they can look elegant and stylish and not have to spend hours in front of the mirror.

Internationally, it has been suggested that poor women are being exploited for their hair, which takes them many years to grow.

“Our suppliers have been very frank with us. The hair is donated in a temple by Indian women. The temple, in turn, sells it to factories and the proceeds are used to maintain the temple.

As a result, we have a good relationship with our suppliers. Our hair is flown to us. We order about 100 packets every week,” she says.

Jansen van Vuuren laughs at the mention of a documentary titled Good Hair that was produced by US comedian Chris Rock.

In his expedition to India, Rock, who visited temples, exposes how Indian local women donate their hair as a sacrifice to their gods, unaware of the commercial motives in the billion-dollar industry.

Jansen van Vuuren admits there is a “degree of weirdness” about the industry.

But she responds to those critical of women who wear human hair this way: “Do you feel happy attaching plastic to your hair?”

Many women, Jansen van Vuuren explains, visit hair boutiques and believe once they whip on a wig, they will look like Beyoncé – but clearly this is untrue.

She says that men play a big part in choosing the hair.

“We sometimes hardly see our female clients, because their husbands and boyfriends collect the hair pieces from our stores,” she says.

Buying a wig is not without its problems: Most clients want to know whether their tresses will fall off during sex, she reveals.

Kuli Roberts, Bella Zara ambassador, controversial writer and co-host of TV show Headline, wears a full lace wig from Bella Zara. She shaves her hair every week.

“The full lace wig looks great. I think (Bella Zara’s) prices are brilliant. This is 100 percent human hair. I can wear the wig for up to six months, which makes it convenient, as I don’t have time to spend hours at a salon styling my hair,” she says.

Roberts says it is important to wash the wigs.

“To all the ladies out there, wash your wigs regularly. After some time it’s gross, it smells, it’s greasy and you can’t manage it.

“I don’t wear a wig because I’m trying to be white. It merely gives me the freedom to look the way I want to and gives me an option.”

Socialite and former TV presenter Nonhle Thema sells weaves. Hers cost about R3 000 for a set.

“I would bring some (hair) home every time I travelled (overseas) and my fans were curious about where I bought my hair. I saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it,” she says.

She stocks Brazilian and Venezuelan hair, and finds weaves easier to manage.

“It protects my natural hair better. In my mother’s era, she wore wigs, so I don’t see any problem with extensions, as they have been part of our lives for a very long time,” says Thema.

Michael Matambele, who was seen buying hair for his daughter, approves of her wearing synthetic fibre, but forbids her to wear human hair.

“Why should she wear someone else’s hair when her own is beautiful?”

Maggie Mashinini, who considers herself as part of the old-school era, prefers a ponytail, as it is easy to manage. She, too, disagrees with the concept of Brazilian and Indian human hair.

“I’d rather use artificial hair. We, as Africans, have always had a relationship with our hair. It’s taboo to wear someone else’s hair. This entire trend has been brought to the fore by the youth who now opt to be more artificial rather than sticking to who they truly are,” she says.

Nora Hendricks, the store manager of Kinky Hair in Eloff in the CBD, has a wide variety of synthetic hair in her shop.

Hendricks maintains that, just like the virgin human hair at Bella Zara, Kinky ensures that its 100 percent synthetic hair does not tangle.

The budget hair pieces, which cost R60 a packet, are popular.

“They can be styled in a different manner, sown into hair or converted into cornrows or into twisted strands,” says Hendricks.

She says that the hair pieces are also a hit as they give the desired straight-haired look – similar to relaxed or ironed hair.

Whether it is donated at a temple or manufactured in a factory, hair pieces are a fashion statement that’s not going to date soon.

Hair types

1. Indian Remy hair, also called Temple hair, originates in India where women shave their hair for religious purposes. Indian hair is naturally thick and lustrous. A 100g pack is R450.

2. Brazilian Virgin hair is naturally strong and full of volume. The hair comes in straight, wavy and curly textures. A 100g pack is R650.

3. Peruvian hair is currently one of the best-quality hair types on the market, as it is the finest and most beautiful hair you can invest in. The hair is in its natural state – without being processed – and is wavy, soft and luxurious. The hair is lightweight and much sleeker in texture than Indian or Brazilian hair. A 100g pack sells for R1 150.

4. Lace wigs are considered the most natural hair extensions available on the market that offer a realistic look, while being lightweight. A fine lace material is used to create a base cap from which individual hairs are hand-tied into the lace. Full lace wigs cost R3 400, while Lace Front wigs go for R1 900.

5. Fusion hair extensions are a permanent method that fuses the hair for a natural and long-lasting effect. This hair is long and full, is made with high-quality Indian Remy hair and can last up to eight months. These extensions cost R450.

6. Micro Loop bonding hair is considered the latest, safest and quickest hair-extension method currently available on the market for permanent hair extensions. - Saturday Star

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