Small Supply, Little Demand And The Natural Hair Movement In Europe

February 23, 2016  |  

Janette Nzekwe

Janette Nzekwe of Modie Haircare (Photo by Benjamin Nwaneampeh)

The natural Black hair movement isn’t limited to America, but limitations when it comes to proper hair care products is making it difficult for many sisters in Europe and abroad to make the transition.

A BBC Raw doc called Hair Freedom recently explored the natural hair movement in Britain. Produced by YouTube content creator Zindzi Rocque Drayton, she told the BBC, “‘Natural hair’ is defined as Afro textured hair that isn’t chemically straightened. In our society and throughout the world, straight hair is so normalized that a large number of Black women chemically straighten their Afro texture. Touching on topics from rocking an Afro in the workplace to the legacy of slavery, I find out the pressures and joys of women who have embraced their ‘natural hair.’”

While it may seem that, internationally, Black women have been slower to adopt the natural look, some of that perception comes down to size. Blacks make up only three percent of the population in the U.K. so there are fewer Black women in some of the major European cities compared to the U.S. metropolises. “I don’t think it’s taken longer, thanks to social media and YouTube the natural hair trend is as vibrant here as it is the U.S.,” said Janette Nzekwe, owner of U.K.-based Natural hair care product company Modie Haircare.”There is a thirst to embrace our natural hair It is as vibrant and as progressive as the U.S., the numbers are just smaller but there’s definitely an interest.”

Berlin-based blogger Nicole Is The New Black has made the same observations. “There are a few contributing factors to the state of Black hair care in Europe, beginning with [the fact that] Black women don’t make up a significant percentage of the population. The small brown numbers result in less demand for products which leads to less hair care techniques and tools, leaving stylists being years behind their counterparts in places like America,” she wrote in Parlour Magazine. “There is almost no pressure to have any representation of Black women in the media due to the low buying power of the Black woman in Europe. There are no magazines like Essence…Many women don’t have high expectations for their hair because they don’t see many examples of Black women, nevermind Black women with healthy hair.”

Still some women Black need convincing to go natural. “Generally speaking, Afro-Europeans see my natural hair as something that needs to be fixed with perm or covered up with a wig and this kind of thinking frustrates me,” she added. “Apart from the occasional American tourist, Black women in Europe typically rock straight hair, weaves and extensions. I imagine the pressure for a women of color to appeal to the European standard of beauty must be stifling in Germany. Ironically, that pressure doesn’t come directly from the Germans themselves but from other Afro-Europeans.”

Even among those who have the natural spirit, the lack of styling products can easily put a damper on it. “Yes, we are definitely embracing the ‘power”of our hair but we just have to look a little harder than our sisters in the U.S. but change is coming,” noted Nzekwe, whose own frustration led her to start her business. Modiê Haircare offers hair care products to make the transition to natural hair easier. Nzekwe went natural herself four years ago while living in Los Angeles.

“When I returned to London, I immediately noticed a complete lack of premium quality products for British women. Having worked for pharmaceutical companies for more than a decade, I began focusing my efforts on providing a premium quality hair product for Black women with natural hair.

“I was frustrated at seeing very few Black women with natural hair represented in the beauty industry. By founding Modiê Haircare, we are engaging with other Black women and creating a superior shopping experience for customers with natural hair,” Nzekwe added. “I was frustrated at the lack of quality hair products in the U.K., I was also frustrated at the shopping experience, I knew where to go to get my lipstick and foundation, but finding premium products for my Afro was a challenge. I believe all women should have access to premium products created especially for them, whether they be in L.A., New York, London, Paris, or Lagos.”

Armed with a degree in biochemistry, Nzekwe used the savings she accrued while working for a pharmaceutical company to start her own hairline to improve that access. “I also wanted to create a safe space for Black women to express themselves just as they are without judgement and a brand that makes the afro synonymous with sophistication and beauty; elegance and grace.  I am also very keen to support the community in an entrepreneurial way, creating jobs and opportunities if I’m able.”

The signature Modiê product is a moisturizing créme for Afro hair made with castor oil, olive oil, organic amla, and manoi oil that is used by singer Corinne Bailey Rae. The products are currently available in Paris at Le Curl Shop, but it has been a challenge for Nzekwe to expand her reach to supply and distribute throughout Black salons in the U.K. — an obstacle she hope to tackle soon. “I plan to develop the line beyond our moisturizing créme and intend to get into some major retailers both in the U.K. and the U.S.,” she said.

There are a few other companies that either make or sell products for Black hair in Europe, though most are based in the U.K. Among them are Be Unique Haircare, Big Hair Beauty, Root2Tip, Mahogany Naturals, Mane Divas, Hug My Hair, I Love AfroSheabutter Cottage, Curly By Nature, and Joliette by Afro Deity. In order to increase the supply, the issue may be the demand as Nzekwe pointed out there are still longstanding misconceptions about Black hair in Europe. “I think some people may still view the Afro as ‘messy’ or ‘untidy’ but I feel the more we wear and embrace our hair the more this will aid to change some perceptions.”

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