JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As part of its drive for market domination, L’Oréal has established its first professional hairdressing institute on African soil here. Called the L’Oréal Professional African Salon Institute, the modern, expansive space is located in Braamfontein, a once run-down neighborhood that has since flourished, thanks to urban regeneration.

The inner-city location might have seemed an unusual choice at first, but Josef Talotta, executive head of precinct development at South Point, which oversaw the gentrification of the area, noted that the Institute “perfectly captures the essence of Braamfontein, which is driven by a potent mix of university students, international NGOs and creative industries. As such, it is perfectly positioned to capture the imagination of university students, who will form South Africa’s next generation of societal and business leadership. Likewise, I think the students will also provide street-cred inspiration to L’Oréal.”

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There are more than 350 L’Oréal Professional Institutes and studios around the world, training more than one million hairdressers yearly. The South African Institute was designed with classrooms catering to groups of 15 to 20 students each, who will be trained in all hair types to certify them as universal stylists. The focus of this particular institute, however, is multiethnic hair, the care of which is a huge priority for the most women across Africa.

Charmaine Joubert, manager of the Institute, heralded the opening as “the start of a new era with a new generation of hair stylists trained in diverse hair types.” She added that the establishment of the Institute was a contribution to “the economic red flags, namely education, job creation and entrepreneurship.”

In fact, L’Oréal Managing Director, South Africa, Bertrand de Laleu said the idea of creating an institute in South Africa arose after visiting the favelas of Brazil, where he looked at ethnic hair care and discovered that hairdressing was the foremost creator of jobs.

Geoff Skingsley, L’Oréal’s Director for the Middle East and Africa, said the potential impact the industry could have from a job-creation perspective in a market like South Africa was tremendous, especially when one considers that “in developed countries, hairdressing is the most important education in terms of employment. On average, there is one female hair salon for every 1,000 inhabitants.” Unemployment in South Africa is currently at 24 percent; the population is about 52 million.

The courses offered at the Institute start from 30,500 South African rands (roughly $3,000 at current exchange), an amount that is beyond the reach of the average South African.  According to Statistics South Africa, the median household income for the black/African segment of the population, which at 79 percent comprises the majority, was 60,613 South African rands (around $6,000) in 2011.

Cognizant of this, the Institute offers, in addition to placement and mentorship programs, scholarships for deserving but indigent students. “Contributing to education is important to L’Oréal and the Institute,” said Joubert. “We see it as an investment in education, training and development.”

She cited the case of its first scholar, Chwayita Goci, a self-trained hairdresser from Soweto. “She supports her household but was unable to obtain a formal qualification. This limited her employment opportunities.
She was provided with professional products to enhance her existing work in her community and given employment at a L’Oréal salon,” said Joubert.