By Rebecca Tsotsoo Kwei -BBC News, Accra, Ghana
In Ghana, natural hair is as much of a fashion choice as it is a political statement.
The style says: “I am a confident woman” to the wider world, with the chemical-free twists, cornrows, locks or braids asserting each wearer’s individuality – all without having to rely on chemicals.
But it has a downside.
Across Ghana, hairdressers specialising in perms, Jheri curl, leisure curls and European-style hair extensions are struggling to fill their salons.
“I can say I have lost about 50% of my clients who have opted to style and maintain their natural black hair,” St Claire Adotey tells the BBC. “This has really affected my business.”
Ms Adotey has been a hairdresser in Accra for more than 20 years – not to mention a decade in the Ivory Coast – and used to have more than 12 clients a day.
This has reduced drastically, to just three clients a day on average – which means the chemicals she has invested her hard-earned cash in lie unused, in danger of going to waste.
“[It’s] not just me: I think other hairdressers are suffering a similar fate,” she says, resigned. “Our customers are no longer interested in using chemicals to perm or curl their hair.”
Another salon owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she has also seen a decline in her business. Her solution has been to also venture into styling natural hair and also selling natural hair products.
Manufacturers of chemicals for hair straightening have also been affected in the sale of their products and most of these companies are shifting to making products for natural hair.
Of course, where one business suffers, another thrives.
‘I couldn’t bear the heat’
“For the past seven years almost every day we have a new client, we see two or more new faces,” Ernestina Emefa Agbley tells the BBC.
Her salon is about five miles from Ms Adotey’s and yet, could not be more different.
With many Ghanaians embracing the potential of their natural hair – as well as the fact it is healthier, cheaper for some and more easily managed at home – she has seen a flood of new clients to the Akuwaa Hair Spa, eager for her expertise.
“A lot of people walk into the salon now so I can boldly say our clientele has increased. A lot more people are hopping on to the idea of keeping their natural hair and locks as well,” Ms Agbley says.
Naa Akuyea Shika Pappoe is just one of the women who threw out the chemicals in favour of a natural approach.
“I switched to natural hair seven years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter and I couldn’t make the salon visits because my first trimester was quite trying,” Mrs Pappoe says.
“I could not handle the discomfort of going to a salon, washing my hair and the heat from the dryer was unbearable.”
For Mrs Pappoe, it is not just the time saving – trips to the salon have halved in length, and are now only monthly – but also about how healthy and strong her hair is now.
“Even when it rains, I don’t have to worry about my hair getting wet and because it is my own hair, I have gotten to know how to handle it,” she says. “Rain cannot damage natural hair but with a permed hair, there is very little you can do.
“The hair becomes limp and kind of plastered on flattened your head. You may have to go back to the salon to get it back in shape.
“If you have relaxed hair, once it is flat you have to go through the whole process of curling again but with natural hair, with a few pins, you can just tuck it in and style.”
There are downsides though.
Mrs Pappoe admits the difficulty with natural hair is the combing – especially if you have very kinky hair.
For some, it might not be that cheap. Mrs Pappoe estimates she spends twice what she may have done in the past maintaining her hairstyle.
But it’s worth it, she says.
“It is definitely more authentic – that’s me, who I am as a person. I’ve grown to love the versatility; I find it very versatile as against relaxed hair. There are so many things you can do with natural hair when compared to permed hair.”
Nana Efua Fremah Baidoo’s natural hair story is different: She switched because she could not find the right product for her very coarse hair.
“I was just fed up. I had to be visiting the salon very often because none of the hair chemicals was suitable for my hair. When I switched to natural hair, it was less expensive to style,” she explains.
But its new-found popularity is an issue – as prices have now risen.
“Because of the hype, it has become expensive maintaining natural hair,” she said.
For some people, embracing their natural hair goes beyond a fashion statement.
In the 1960s and 70s, wearing natural hair was very much a political statement in the US.
More recently, Miss Jamaica, Davina Bennett, went viral after wearing her hair in an afro during the Miss Universe 2017 pageant. For many, it was a statement about black pride.
But for Akua Djanie, known as Blakofe, a Ghanaian writer and TV presenter and currently the deputy head of the Ghana Tourist Development Company, embracing her natural hair is neither a fashion nor political statement.
“It is a way of life. God created every race with a particular type of hair and it makes perfect sense to me to embrace that,” she told the BBC.