Beating the ‘Designer’ Weave Addiction in Malawi

by Lerato Manyozo
- Malawi -

They say once you go black, you never go back. For me, turns out, it’s a much bigger story. I say, once you go virgin – Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian, Malaysian or Cambodian – you won’t go back! Virgin hair that is! And I am quite sure that a lot of my weave changing, long-tress loving sisters agree with me on this one. Designer hair, as I like to call the expensive, top quality, untreated tresses, can be highly addictive. The minute you pat the soft, silky strands or remove the heat curlers and shake your full, shiny, bouncy locks, you will be hooked for life.

"Add volume" by Flickr user B.L. Ochman and used under a Creative Commons license.

"Add volume" by Flickr user B.L. Ochman and used under a Creative Commons license.

And, before you know it, you are scouring the Internet for the latest ombré hair and top quality lace partings, and meeting up with friends in dark alleyways to connect with the ‘madams’ who smuggle in and sell good quality hair at a cheaper price. If you are like me and the rest of the hair lot, you are soon keeping secret weave stashes bought at such a high amount of money that your other half would cringe, or worse faint, if they knew that you were spending so ridiculously on your hair!

As if being a hair scavenger is not enough, you automatically become a weave judge too. With your new ‘weave expert’ status, the minute you walk into a room, you know immediately which of the girls there is rocking a bone straight Indian, a cheap Brazilian knock-off, or the luxurious Peruvian that you've been saving up to get. Needless to say, the synthetic hair users are frowned upon in horror and disbelief.

If you get together with a bunch of other ‘hair freaks,’ two minutes into the conversation y’all will be talking about who got what where, and where to go for your next kill – I beg your pardon – purchase. Trying to resist once you've fallen into the lure of designer weaves is utterly pointless; you’d better quit before you've even began because once you get hooked on locks that never tangle, flow freely, and are beautifully, miraculously renewed after every wash, curl, or colour; the only direction you go is deeper. Before you know it, you’re buying another, then another, and yet another – all longer, fuller, more glorious than the last. Which is exactly what happened to me.

In Malawi, there is no saving or investing culture among the young and employed. Impulse buying and purchasing items on credit is more common in women – we even have a saying that goes ukawopa ngongole ugona ndi njala meaning if you are too scared to buy goods on credit you might sleep on an empty stomach. A friend of mine once told me that each month she usually purchases goods on credit worth three times her monthly pay or more! Everyone wants to look good and there is absolutely no form of control.

Two years into my obsession with my hair, I consciously asked myself if what I was doing would compromise the person that I am. When one of my ‘natural,’ or self-righteous ‘I am not my hair,’ sisters looked at me; what did she see? And, just how much was I willing to sacrifice to look designer? My principles? Food on my family’s table? My hairline? I knew the first two would never happen, but the hairline bit is what got me worried. So, after seeing one too may ruined hairlines, and noticing that my own was slowly receding, I got honest with myself. I decided to embrace my God-given tresses and went to see the most truthful hair dresser I could find for a good ‘hair-apy’ session. It took a lot of strength, with my hair so thin and sparse, but an inner resolve has kept me going.

And so, I have stayed away from all things designer and invisible partings for the past six months (the longest I have been in my own locks since I graduated high school close to 10 years ago) and the effect on my hairline is amazing. Shea butter, lots of tender loving care and protective hair styles, and my hairline has grown back and my tresses are longer, fuller, thicker. Not only am I saving my own hair, I am also saving a lot of money.

Depending on the length and quality of hair (Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian, Cambodian, Remy, etc…), one piece in Malawi usually costs anywhere between K90,000.00 to K200,000.00 ($181.80 - $404. 04 USD). Since the fuller the hair the better it looks, one needs a minimum of two packs and ideally three or four, which means you multiply that figure by 2, 3 or 4 to get the total. A lace closure costs just as much if not slightly more than one pack of hair. Installation costs anywhere from K5000.00 – K10,000.00 depending on the method.

Beautiful designer wigs cost as much as K450,000.00 ($909.00). If you look at the cost of weaving, getting all pieces installed might be as much as K610,000.00 ($1232.00) for top quality hair. Malawi’s economy is staggering under the weight of a constantly inflating currency, a weak export base, and not enough international investment plus people are not paid much to begin with. On average, middle income women in Malawi make K450,000.00 as gross income. Therefore the K610,000.00 is in many cases more than most women take home each month. And this is just for their hair! They still need to think of rent, food, clothing, and other bills.

Some fashionistas sacrifice a good diet at home in order to look good. Some will survive on beans, veggies and nsima (hard porridge made from maize flour) all month. Some, like me, save or get the hair on credit then pay it off in 2-3 installments; rather than saving and investing this money in projects that will yield returns. Of course, this is prevalent in the young, urban population that forms a significant part of the working class community.

Despite all this, if I see a good designer weave I will buy it. Designer weaves keep for a very long time and when looked at logically they are actually more cost effective in the long run. With proper care, you can use them as many times. Yet, whereas I previously thought I looked good only in a designer weave, I am now comfortable in my chin length brown bob too.

I will be the first to admit I love my weaves and do not agree with anyone saying that by wearing them I am trying to be something I am not – trying to look non-black and therefore not embracing the kinky, natural hair God gave to me. The length of the hair on my head does not determine the depth of my mind nor does it make me throw the morals my momma taught me out the window! Just like make-up, it simply serves to give me a ‘preferred’ look for a particular time. I also realise that when I am in a weave, the tresses underneath need just as much attention as those on show.

To my fellow weave rockers, give your hair a break once in a while, some TLC all the time, and never let your quest for designer make you throw your morals and good sense out the window!

lerato manyozoAbout the Author: Lerato Manyozo lives and works in Malawi. Her work has been published in local publications such as the Daily Times and Nation newspapers. She has also written for the South African based Gender Links Opinion and Commentary. Her work focuses on human rights, socio-economic development, health, and climate change. Her vision is to bring to light in the international media the issues Malawians are facing.

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