Where Are All the (Quality) Textured Hair Extensions?
When Whitney Osborne upgrades her wash-and-go with a set of Corkscrew Curl clip-in extensions from her brand, Melanj Hair, she wants the final product to be a harmonious arrangement, a seamless installation.
"When you're thinking about wearing hair extensions in any form, no matter how you're installing them or how you're wearing them, you want them to blend," Osborne explains. "You want it to look like it's coming straight out of your scalp from beginning to end."
In 2020, when the 35-year-old launched the brand — a recipient of Glossier’s grant initiative for Black-owned beauty businesses — with her sister, they were inspired by the French verb mélanger, meaning "to mix or blend." Melanj Hair's clip-in and weft hair extensions range from tightly coiled to silk-press straightened.
Be it braids, faux locs, lace-front wigs or bundles for clip-in, tape-in, or sew-in styles, Black women have been avid consumers of hair extensions for decades. In a global industry that is expected to grow at an annual rate of 16 percent over the next five years, "native Africans and people of African descent are the largest hair wigs and extensions consumers," according to a recently released Research and Markets report.
Named in the report as the largest supplier of human hair used to make wigs and extensions, however, is the Asia-Pacific region. This has left Black women without a voice on what type of hair they want or need. The Black community has dominated the "end user" link of the supply chain in the hair extensions market, but it has historically been left out of the rest of the process, including sourcing, manufacturing, and product development.
"It's kind of been a dry valley for us for a long time," says Renée Gadar, hairstylist and global artistic director of texture for Aveda. "The people who were once providing us the extensions that we were using were just like, 'This is what you all get,' and we were making the best out of what we had."
Recently, however, efforts to offer customers a full range of options for textured hair extensions have taken root. For hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, it was a frustrating search for quality hair that fueled the launch of her brand, TSD Hair. "It would frizz up, it would just fray up, it would shed, it just didn't have a nice shine," she recalls of her past dissatisfaction with textured extensions. "Or it didn't look real and had synthetic fibers blended in."
Now, the TSD line boasts a shed-free guarantee and uses 100 percent virgin human hair, meaning it is free of synthetic fibers and hasn't been chemically processed. Says Sturdivant-Drew, customers and clients can wash, condition, and style the hair like it's their own. "I stand by my hair extension line so much because my clients wear the hair for two years or more. [Online customers] keep coming back because they're like, 'This hair is amazing!'"
Extensions are also available on Amazon, Sally Beauty, and through other major online retailers, but now, notes Osborne, customers with textured hair looking for extensions can find a seller who shares their lived experience. She wears the Melanj Hair extensions, has styled them and tested products on them, as evidenced by the brand’s Instagram account.
Osborne underwent a monthslong process to find and work with a manufacturer who could help accomplish the vision for the brand. "There's a lot of testing, research. You're getting a lot of samples. You're trying different products, different techniques before narrowing things down [to the final product line]," she explains, adding that some of the hair undergoes processing to essentially create the texture. "One thing that was very important in the beginning was to establish that Melanj Hair extensions are actually different. We're not just picking from a product offering and then putting our label on it."
Some of the verbiage used on the product labels to sell extensions gets under entrepreneur Osahon Ojeaga’s skin. Braiding hair is often marketed with terms like "nonflammable," "flame retardant," "nontoxic," and "no smell." She says this wording is indicative of how much the industry is still not reading the room when it comes to Black women's needs and wants.
The industry is still not reading the room when it comes to Black women's needs and wants.
"There's no messaging or marketing that appeals to the hair journey that consumers are on," Ojeaga says. "It's unfathomable to see how this industry has grown so big to the size that it is, and it's still so disconnected from the user base."
For Ojeaga, cofounder and CEO of Nourie, a new brand of braiding hair, the connection to her prospective consumers couldn't be stronger. She and her team of mostly Black women wear braids as a protective style, to minimize daily manipulation of the hair and safeguard it from damage.
Braiding culture is a significant part of the Black beauty landscape. Gadar encourages her clients to work braids into their seasonal hair regimen as a protective style. But when it comes to choosing braiding hair, sifting through the range of products and choosing quality hair can be an intimidating task, she says. Prices can range from a few dollars per pack to $16 and beyond, with hair quality varying as well. Explains Gadar, "The $1.99 pack [of braiding hair] will pop and break your hair, and it will take your edges in a heartbeat."
Ojeaga says she's removed many sets of braids to find her hair dry, brittle, broken, and her scalp irritated. So she and polymer engineer Mary Ellen Moore, PhD, designed Nourie with the braid-wearer’s well-being in mind. The Nourie line of braiding hair is sourced from plants, with patent-pending technology wrapped into each strand that allows for the release of nourishment to the hair and scalp over time.
When developing the nourishing complex for the hair, Ojeaga and her team selected nutrients with properties similar to what the scalp produces naturally, plus their own enhancements, including niacinamide for its hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties and rosemary for its antifungal ones.
Nourie offers 18-inch units available in two colors, Onyx (1) and After Dusk (1B). Ojeaga says she and Dr. Moore were intentional about providing what she calls their "scientifically sexy" product to Black women first. "How often are people who create really technical innovations thinking about us?" she asks. "And [Nourie] is an opportunity for that to be different…. I can't wait for Black women to get their hands on it and experience it."
With pre-orders shipping this month, Nourie joins a new wave of Black woman-owned brands that have created products to support fellow Black women in feeling beautiful and empowered in their personal journeys to embrace natural curls.
In December, the CROWN Act fell short of getting the votes it needed to pass in the US Senate, a strong suggestion that the barriers for Black women and other women of color who show up as their full selves are still very much in place. Yet stylists like Gadar say have seen a shift in culture, where Black women and other women of color are now prioritizing the health of their hair and scalp in lieu of the dominant "fried, dyed, and laid to the side" mentality.
Quality textured hair extensions have played a role in that shift. Coils, cornrows, and kinky straight blowouts now saturate the red carpet and are making their mark on pop culture, meaning textured hairstyles are in high demand for Sturdivant-Drew's clients. "When I see them smile and shake their hair and love the texture, I mean, that's most fulfilling for me," she says. "That is what hair does. That's what tape-ins do. That's what a sew-in does. That's what a wig does. That's what a ponytail does. It brings this confidence out in you that some people didn't even know they had."
Read more about styling and caring for natural hair:
35 Black-Owned Hair-Care Brands That Should Be on Your Radar
These Silk Press & Blowout Bars Are Redefining Black Hair Salon Culture
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Originally Appeared on Allure