SKU’d Thoughts 52: What is the synthetic hair industry missing?
In ancient civilizations like the Egyptian and Roman empires, people wore wigs made either from human hair, sheep’s wool or vegetable fibers. Human and animal hair are still used for wigs and hair extensions but along the way, synthetic hair wigs and extensions went from being made out of plant fibers to being manufactured from petrochemical-derived materials such as polyester, acrylic, and PVC that are not biodegradable. This is a huge environmental problem because millions of pounds of synthetic hair end up in landfills annually, where it could take roughly 500 years to decompose. This problem will only escalate if not addressed since the wig and extensions market is projected to hit $13 billion by 2026, with synthetic options being a key driver.
Factors that drive demand for synthetic hair include its lower cost, versatility, manageable maintenance of faux hair, and the ethical issues around human hair harvesting. More than 90% of all synthetic hair is produced in Asia but 40% of the synthetic hair wearers are located in North America. People wear wigs and hair extensions for a few reasons; some wear them for fashion, some may need them because they are living with alopecia or going through cancer treatment, and others use them as a form of protective styling. The latter group is predominantly Black women, who are reportedly the largest consumers of hair wigs and extensions. This is in line with a Mintel report that Black women spend about $1.75 billion on hair care products. Even more eye-opening is that more than half of that spend is on brands that don’t directly target Black consumers. Synthetic hair manufacturers have made little to no improvements on their products that many Black women have reported to cause damage to natural hair and in some cases allergic reactions.
The synthetic hair market’s lack of innovation around sustainability and the neglect of its largest consumer base is an opportunity for new entrants to capture market share. A brand I believe is positioned to do just that is Rebundle. This SKU’d portfolio company has reverted to ancient civilization tactics of making synthetic hair from plant (banana to be exact) fibers. What makes Rebundle doubly exciting is that it was founded by a Black woman whose goals are to minimize the 30 million annual pounds (according to the company’s estimates) of synthetic hair that end up in U.S. landfills and to produce synthetic hair solely focused on the category’s largest spenders: Black women.