Jamaica's weave imports set to hit $1 billion in 2013

Jamaica's weave imports set to hit $1 billion in 2013

Friday, November 01, 2013

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Jamaica's importation of wigs and weaves is set to hit $1 billion this year based on growth over the last four years.

The island officially imported US$7 million ($735) million worth of the product in 2012, up from $3.3 million in 2008, according to trade statistics. While the country imports large quantities of the product, it fails to export any of its own national's hair to minimise the trade deficit.

Additionally, the imports are up to 14 times that of neigbouring Caribbean islands.

Some 50 per cent of the imports originated from China (wigs and eyelashes) in 2012, representing US$3.5 million. But for some reason, the China data appears to omit human hair which would have grown the figure substantially.

The remainder includes US$3.5 million (human hair, wigs and eyelashes) from the US, South Korea and Dominica Republic, according to the International Trade Centre, an affiliate of the World Trade Organisation and United Nations.

Women and men are increasingly wearing synthetic and 'recycled' human hair as necessity rather than luxury.

"Fake hair is not necessary for survival but has become a staple for many women," according to Dr Veronica 'Ewurama' Reid, founder of Beautiful Earth Jamaica, which manufactures a line of beauty products and operates two spas/salons in Jamaica.

The salon caters to natural hairstyles including loc extensions, but not weave and wigs. It's a distinction discussed in her short book entitled 'Chances Are You're Not Natural' on the shifting tone.

"I think it's an oversimplification. Extensions aren't always about looking different and some are undetectable. However, most wigs/weaves serve the same purpose of bleaching-to look like our 'betters'," she reasoned to Caribbean Business Report.

The import becomes significant when compared with neighbours, whether larger in terms of economy or population. For instance, Jamaica's imports are seven times more than that of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Dominica Republic each at some US$1 million. Additionally, that figure rises to roughly 14 times more than in Haiti and Cuba.

The weave importation deficit serves as a metaphor for the island's wider trade deficit, currently at US$2.2 billion for the first six months of 2013. This importation is more than the annual car imports from South Korea at US$6 million, data indicates.

Importantly, the weave data would also fails to account for smugglers or that which is imported under personal use by higglers. But attempts to formalise the industry would backfire, reasoned Reid.

"Government intervention would not be welcomed and there would be nasty backlash and a black market springing up if the government tried to block imports," she stated.

Officially, wigs attract 20 per cent duty, GCT of 21.5 per cent, environmental levy of 0.5 per cent, standard compliance fee of 0.3 per cent, processing fee of US$10,000 for imports under container loads and an examination fee of $2,500. Interestingly, weaves or any product requiring sowing or gluing pays the fees listed above but no duty.

A medium-sized weave importer who asked to remain anonymous to allow for formalisation of his business indicated that the industry already pays its fair share of 'duties' and that increased taxation would serve to burden the poor.

"Lol. Well, like other 'luxury' items it is [taxed], and as a result contributes immensely to the high prices that women -- mostly from humble backgrounds -- are paying for hair extensions in Jamaica," he indicated.

Regardless of taxation the client base continues to grow daily.

"I am going to buy some hair next week," a dancer sporting a natural mohawk hairstyle, who uses the stage name 'Chavelle', told this newspaper on Wednesday night.

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