The COVID-19 pandemic and the hard restrictions of the Level 5 lockdown period in 2020 set South Africa’s local hair and beauty industry back significantly. The beauty industry has struggled after being shut down for months as it made it to the list of non essential businesses that had to shut down operations when cases of COVID-19 increased. According to a multinational company and research group, Mekinsey, the global industry generates $500 billion in annual sales and accounts for millions of jobs, directly and indirectly. Many of the people who work in these industries were left without work for months.
Locally; Hatfield is a university town that has hundreds of students from the University of Pretoria and other institutions walking its streets. Every one of these students is part of the target market for all of the salons around the city. When campuses closed for lockdown in March 2020, the large majority of students left residences and accommodations in Hatfield, which resulted in severe economic setbacks for the salons and all of their employees who faced the impact of lockdown restrictions. Matilda Okai, a Ghanaian citizen living in South Africa working as a hairdresser, is a manager at Hatfield Beauty and Hair Studio. Okai said that the lockdown crippled the business as they had to go for months without any income between her and her husband. “No work means no pay when you are a salon worker, even if you miss a single day. Now imagine months of a business not operating”, she explained.
Okai said that what was even more difficult during the hard restrictions period was having to pay rent for the store they operate from. That put a strain on the staff and managers because it made it more difficult to honour salaries. Okai explained that her business did not qualify for specific government relief, and that it felt the burden of lockdown on a pronounced level. Okai elaborated that even now post hard lockdown restrictions, the business is still going through strain because they are recovering from the losses of 2020. “Last year when the salons were closed, my husband had to ask for money from our family in Ghana just so we could survive. It was really hard going for months without any money entering our pockets”, said Okai.
“…the global(beauty) industry generates $500 billion in annual sales and accounts for millions of jobs, directly and indirectly“
Okai indicated that because of where they operate, which is Hatfield, they have a market advantage of students, and predominantly UP students. “Even when the university closes for recess we suffer as a business because the absence of students kills our business, as they make up most of our clientele”. Martin, a Barber at Hatfield Barber, agreed, indicating that the lockdown placed his business in a vulnerable state due to the lack of income for months. “It is only now that one is starting to recover from the debacle of 2020, at least now I can make ends meet”, he explained. Martin also stated that when UP students are all in town they can see and feel the difference, as they have regular clients. “When students [are] here, I know I will make a lot of money in a day, so it was very difficult last year when the majority of them were not around”, he said.
While most industries have reopened and can conduct business freely, many still experience the economic and personal challenges caused by the lockdown in 2020. Small businesses like Hatfield Barber and Hatfield Beauty and Hair Studio continue to recover the financial losses of the past year and continue business as their largest clientele basis is still largely missing from Hatfield.