• With male grooming and skin care booming in Africa, the barbing sector is taking measures to improve the industry and ensure that barbing is an increasingly wealth-generating activity
• BOTBA (Battle Of The Barbers Africa) is one way it has built attention in 2023
Cameroonian Glen Mue, 18, had always wanted to be a top barber. But without the opportunity to meet professionals in the barbing industry and learn from them, he was stymied.
Mue is a nursing student and part-time software developer in Limbe, in Cameroon's southwestern region.
Due to his passion for barbing during his leisure time, his father had connected him to a barbing shop, where Mue learned how to shave customers and cut hair. But with few ways to learn new techniques, his interest began to wane.
In 2021, Mue began searching online to work out how he could improve his knowledge and even grow a business.
Then in 2023, after a friend informed him that Battle Of The Barbers Africa (BOTBA) would be held in Limbe, came a breakthrough. BOTBA is a competition created in 2020 for African barbers to meet annually, learn and showcase their talent in the industry.
“At the beginning of this year, I reached a point where I could no more see improvement. I was shaving (barbing), but every time I shaved, I was not seeing it getting better," Mue said.
"So, I said, 'How can I test my skills?' I went to Facebook and searched Battle of the Barbers Africa. I saw it and I was like 'wow!' I said to myself, 'I am going to register because it is an opportunity for me to meet great barbers even if I end up the last in the competition.'"
The Cameroonian BOTBA competition, based on similar competitions overseas, unfolded over two days. On day one, the barbers were drilled by a lawyer on how to handle paperwork when opening shops and how to handle tax issues.
They were also trained by a medical doctor and were taught to make their barbing operations more competitive, including branding and marketing their skills.
Reinvigorated, Mue decided to use his software skills to build an app that would enable clients to book him to provide barber services at their disposal. He decided he would also acquire a minivan so he could move around and shave when booked.
“But now, since I am still a student, I don’t have that much finance, I will just look for a way I can be doing home services at my place,” he said.
According to the Brookings Institute Research, the continent’s beauty and personal care industry was set to be valued at $14 billion in 2022, oiled by a steady rise in disposable incomes among the continent’s middle class. According to Brookings, growing discretionary incomes are leading to higher demand for high-quality, niche and foreign-produced goods.
“Changing demographics and improving business environments across the continent will be just two of the factors contributing to rising household consumption, which is predicted to reach $2.5 trillion by 2030,” the study read in part.
According to the World Bank, the young population in Africa, which saw the arrival of top international brand Fenty in 2022, makes it an attractive region for manufacturers, brands and retailers.
According to the report, more and more men are trooping to salons to have a facial, a pedicure, a manicure or just a rejuvenating body scrub and massage, with outlets like Sorbet Man in South Africa having grown to create a franchise with more than 220 men’s salons countrywide.
Altogether, some 22 barbers and 20 makeup artists from Cameroon, Rwanda and Nigeria gathered at BOTBA for the Cameroonian event.
For Safari Martin, a barber based in Kigali, Rwanda who came to the competition as a judge, the event is a crucial way for the barbing industry to be taken more seriously.
“It is something that is still being undermined in Africa. It is not yet considered as a great job like these office jobs,” he said.
"The competition helped barbers showcase what they can do, even those barbers who have no access to the Internet or social media. This helps them to showcase their talent. It is something that pushes barbers to another level."
Even though he was a judge, Martin said, he, too, had learned a lot from barbers from other parts of the continent.
“I learned from them how to manage barbing as a business, how to be financially stable as a barber. We learned from each other,” he said. He is now thinking of organising a similar event in Rwanda, where he will further disseminate the knowledge he got from Cameroon.
BROADENING THE SCOPE
Crucially, the third edition of BOTBA expanded to having makeup artists and hairdressers at the event, too.
Aruke Joshefla, 20, a final-year microbiology student at the University of Buea, who started her makeup business just eight months before the competition, went on to become the first winner in the female category.
"From what I got at the training, I am going to exploit social media to let many people know about my business," Joshefla said.
“I am looking forward to creating a beauty house with different sections now. The fact that I am still schooling is what is limiting me, but I am taking it gradually," Joshefla said.
Cameroonian barber Walters Ngalle, the moving force behind the competition, said that in future, the platform would be open to any African barber or beautician who wished to showcase his or her talent.
“We educate beauticians on a lot of things. Being a barber is not all about wearing a clipper and cutting people’s hair,” he said.
"There are a lot of things medically, how you go about marketing and branding. The same goes for the makeup artists and hairdressers."
“We are not out to have an immediate impact, but we believe that in years to come, we are going to have a greater impact.”
He said over the past two years, they have seen a massive increase in the number of contestants and their sponsors, which to him is an indication that sponsors are okay with the goal of barbers to promote the beauty industry.
The 2023 competition saw the main sponsor, LIV27, a barbing studio, support the event all the way from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“If our sponsors and our communities are out there supporting us, then I don’t see any reason why we should not succeed,” Ngalle said.