A Brief History of China's Conquest of the Global Wig Market
By 2023, the global wig market had exceeded $10 billion in size. In China, the number of consumers who regularly wear wigs is relatively small. In 2021, the wig market in China was only worth 9.2 billion yuan.
In recent years, as the academic and work pressures on young people in China have increased, phenomena such as hair loss and receding hairlines have become increasingly common. To cover their thinning hair or to pursue beauty and fashion, more young people have started buying easily wearable wig pieces, wig packages, and other products.
Outside of China, purchasing wig sets is very common in the United States, Africa, and Europe. In the United States and Africa, black women often face the challenges of fragile hair and hair loss, leading to a natural demand for wigs. In Europe, even men have a tradition of wearing wigs for aesthetic purposes.
Chinese-made wigs are not widely used within China, but they have become best-selling products overseas to meet consumer demand. China has 70% of the world's factories and holds an 80% market share of the global wig industry. In recent years, the average value of China's wig exports reached $3 billion.
Over the past few decades, the domestic wig industry chain has gradually formed, and the path of going abroad for sales has become more mature and stable. Now, with the development of Chinese internet companies, more and more of them are expanding into overseas markets in Europe, America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Will the traditional wig foreign trade industry be able to combine with emerging internet platforms to unleash greater potential in the overseas market?
The Wig Business on TikTok
Accompanied by a few seconds of magical music, models with brown-black skin showcase black, golden, and even purple wigs on TikTok. They use hair straighteners, hair clips, and other tools to style the wigs. Chinese manufacturers display densely woven hair nets, hair curtains, and scenes of workers weaving wigs in their workshops...
If you don't search for "Chinesewig" on TikTok, it would be difficult to link the Chinese wig manufacturers and the demand for wigs from black women.
For black women, wigs are as essential as plastic surgery is to Korean women or perfume is to French women. Black hair is naturally fluffy, composed of dense curls that resemble a foam-like texture, making it very difficult to manage. Moreover, compared to other races, black women are more prone to hair loss. According to statistics from the United States, African American women are four times more likely to suffer from hair loss (0.4%) than white women (0.09%).
Therefore, wigs have become a necessity for black women. Middle-class black women in Europe and America tend to purchase more natural and breathable human hair wigs, while African women often buy synthetic wigs. They even cut or shave off their own hair and use various wigs to satisfy their pursuit of fashion and beauty.
China is the largest producer and exporter of wigs globally, with 80% of the world's wigs coming from China. Chinese wig videos on TikTok are also very popular. Currently, the well-known Chinese wig brand UNice has already gained 300,000 followers on TikTok, and many small and medium-sized brands have also released videos on TikTok to showcase their wig production scenes and the effects of wearing them.
It seems that using emerging livestream commerce platforms to sell wigs can better showcase the products and bridge the gap between consumers and sellers. However, in reality, selling wigs on TikTok is not as easy as imagined.
Harry, who sells wigs and false eyelashes, once attempted to enter the UK market on TikTok. Following a cautious approach, when selling wigs from other manufacturers, he only sold false eyelashes. He would translate the Chinese videos into English and repost them, while also setting up a livestream room. However, Harry quickly gave up on cross-border livestream sales.
The selling price of a box of false eyelashes is around £4.5-£5.5. Harry spent about £10,000 solving the technical problems needed to set up the livestream room, as well as preparing materials and personnel. However, after six months, Harry only sold dozens of boxes of false eyelashes, and other sellers of wigs also experienced similar failures.
Harry confessed that he didn't think selling wigs on TikTok was a good business. Currently, TikTok's livestream commerce business in Europe and America is just starting, with only the UK market available. The videos may generate a surge in traffic and attract one or two thousand new followers, but the probability of converting them into consumers is not high. Most local consumers in the UK are not accustomed to online shopping, and users outside the UK can only watch videos without being able to make purchases, resulting in a significant amount of ineffective traffic. Additionally, most TikTok users are students with limited spending power, making it difficult for them to afford expensive human hair wigs.
Even if the wigs are sold, there will be a series of problems to face afterward. When selling wigs on e-commerce livestream platforms, consumers can only see the effects but cannot try them on. Once they receive the ordered products and find them unsuitable, they often choose to return them. The high return rate not only requires sellers to establish local warehouses but also increases the difficulty of customer service.
"Real human hair wigs have a very short shelf life. Once they are detached from the nourishment provided by the human body, their lifespan is only about six months," said Harry. Synthetic wigs have lower prices and do not dry out as quickly as real human hair wigs, but the popular styles change rapidly. If the inventory accumulates in large quantities, there is still a risk of unsold stock.
For Chinese wig manufacturers, the safest approach is to produce wig components and then sell them overseas to be assembled by local distributors in line with popular styles. Consumers can go to physical stores to try and purchase the wigs or even customize them. The company where Harry works is engaged in this type of B2B export trade.
Compared to wigs, false eyelashes are cheaper with a higher demand and lower return rates. However, Harry explained that his company also faces fierce competition, with some competitors setting up manufacturing facilities in Vietnam, where labor costs are lower. They have been engaging in price wars, making it difficult to set high prices for products. Additionally, local European logistics costs...