The Business of Beauty in Africa

27 Aug 2015|dutlowm

The case for Africa to be the next big source of business growth has been made. Obama’s recent visit to East Africa to encourage bilateral trade between African nations and the USA, and the rapid expansion of most major multinationals into Africa are testament to the opportunity the continent presents. Yet despite the traction to capitalise on Africa’s economic growth, some industries have been slow in innovating to truly meet the needs of African consumers. The beauty industry, in particular, has not always kept pace.

African women are experiencing very positive socio-economic shifts, with the World Bank highlighting that more women are receiving access to basic education, employment opportunities and even becoming entrepreneurs – all driving increased spending power. There has also been a refreshing shift in popular media in how African beauty is perceived. The rest of the world has become more aware of what Africans have always known – deep ebony skin, a fuller figure and naturally curly hair are breathtakingly beautiful. Hollywood’s darling, Lupita Nyong’o, hailing from Kenya, mesmerised the red-carpet with her flawless dark skin. And Nigeria’s renowned author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who was brought to mainstream fame in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless”, has become a champion of natural black African hair. This has created a virtuous cycle, where African women embrace their individual beauty more than ever.

Despite these economic and cultural shifts, African women’s beauty needs remain largely underserved. Therein lies the opportunity for an even more thriving beauty industry in Africa.

Tapping into the shift towards natural hair care. There is a steady shift from relaxed (chemically straightened) hair to more natural curly hairstyles. This is evident in the large number of blogs across the continent advising women how to navigate the long and sometimes difficult journey from relaxed (chemically straightened) to natural hair. The natural hair care category is however very cluttered, perhaps indicative of no single product or brand really standing out to deliver against African women’s needs. Some women have chosen to go “back to basics” using natural ingredients like Shea butter and coconut oil. Others elect to pay huge premiums, importing natural hair care products intended for African Americans from the USA. L’Oreal’s Dark ‘n Lovely, a black hair care giant, has given a nod to more natural ingredients with the launch of the Amla Oil range – there is room to grow this further. Could one brand rise above the clutter to deliver innovation and easier access to products that truly work for natural African hair?

Skin care that stands the test of African sun. African women’s skin ages differently to their fairer European and Western counterparts. As the old saying goes, “black don’t crack”, meaning black skin does not tend to wrinkle as quickly. For Black African women, ageing typically manifests in dark pigmentation patches, worsened by exposure to the harsh African sun. Most of the skin care world has been very focused on driving innovation and communication around anti-wrinkle potions. Unilever’s Ponds has risen to the occasion in South Africa, being the first big brand with an even skin tone proposition, garnering sustained market leadership as a result. However a full continent waits! There are still groans for adequate sun protection that does not leave residues on darker skin tone. Could a brand gain support across the continent as THE choice for African skin?

Make-up for the rainbow colours of Africa. African skin comes in countless tones, from light caramel to deep chocolate, and the perfect make-up match can sometimes be impossible to find. Years of innovation targeted at European skin tones have left slim pickings in Africa. Estée Lauder has seized some of the opportunity to create make-up that meets the needs of African women, with the Shades of Africa campaign by Clinique. Another brand in their portfolio, MAC, also performs well here; however expansion from South Africa into the rest of Africa has been slow, with a handful of stores in Nigeria and more recently partnering with Kenyan entrepreneur, Joyce Gikunda, to launch in Nairobi. There are still millions more women to reach. Which make-up brand is up to the challenge?

There has been steady progress to grow the business of beauty in Africa, but a massive opportunity remains to truly delight women on the continent!

Written by Marilyn Dutlow Munga, Added Value South Africa

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