NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 – Human hair wigs and extensions have gotten a bad rap based on some documentaries which show some of their unappealing origins such as the Ganges River in India into which ritualistically cut hair is thrown and gathered up downstream for export.
Stories on social media tell of insects hibernating in the hair and later boring through the scalp.
Then there’s the mixed messages from men who say they prefer their women having the natural look; it’s better, they argue, than irregularly cleaned, poorly maintained hair extensions that resemble a bird’s nest more than anything.
Not forgetting the politics of the African woman’s hair as celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to it.
A woman who now prefers matutas — cornrows plaited using her own hair — to Brazilian looking hair attached to her scalp.
“The first thing I did when I finished high school was get my hair permed, the school didn’t allow it, and when I did get my hair braided, I preferred them long so I could flip them over my shoulder like a white woman,” she shared with University of Nairobi students during the launch of her latest and much celebrated book Americanah.
But that was in Nigeria where hair grooming was affordable. When Chimamanda moved to the United States of America to pursue higher education, due to the extravagant costs of getting her hair processed as a student, she opted to DIY, (do it herself).
And her inexperience showed when she wound up with sores on her scalp and hair falling out.
It was an experience similar to one Connie Mbuvi had and which inspired her business, Institut Sante et Beaute Capillaire.
“I live in France but I visit Kenya regularly. On one of those occasions I had my hair processed. But when I went back home, instead of easy to manage hair, my hair fell out.”
And so out she went in search of something to cover her shame and it’s when she came across Ellen Wille – a European line of hypoallergenic human hair extensions and wigs.
“They told me that they catered mainly to women battling cancer.”
Connie’s own mother being in a similar situation, the line greatly appealed to her. So much so that she now carries it solely at her Institute Sante et Beaute Capillaire.
“I felt that there was a need for something similar in Kenya; for women like me who were the victims of bad hair jobs and people like my mother who while battling cancer didn’t need to deal with the added discomfort of a scratchy, poor quality wig whose origins they don’t know in order to look good and feel good.”
Hair she says, is now not only her business, but her mission.