Cargo thieves are going after hair extensions and wigs, as SA’s imports soar

Business Insider SA
Hair extensions for sale in a shop. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
Hair extensions for sale in a shop. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
  • Cargo thieves are targeting hair extensions and other related products such as wigs and hair fibre.
  • Insurance claims for hair extensions rose 37% over one year for Hollard.
  • This is as South Africa’s hair imports surged 64% in four years.
  • South Africa’s hotspots for hair theft are in the Johannesburg area, most likely for imports coming via the Durban port.
  • Among other goods, thieves have their eyes set on are solar panels and cannabis.
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Wigs and hair extensions imports are increasingly becoming prone to cargo theft and hijackings once they reach South Africa, with these items becoming one of the most insured goods likely to be stolen.

The South African illicit trade market is primarily to blame for the increasing theft of wigs and hair extensions, Marika van Rhyn, Hollard Marine’s senior business development manager, said.

Globally, the hair extension market is valued at around R41 billion and is expected to grow to R59 billion in 2028, at a rate of 5.3%, market research house Fortune Business Insights states.

It said a growing fashion sense and aspiration for luxury by South African consumers, and others in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are mainly fuelling the hair extension markets of the Middle East and some African regions.

Over the past four years, South Africa's imports for hair extensions jumped 64%, with the country's annual imports for hair products in general reaching around R1.1 billion, Van Rhyn said.

"There has been such an increase in demand for hair extensions in South Africa that the theft of extensions is becoming more and more frequent. Once stolen, it is easily sold illegally and is very fast-moving," she said.

Hollard itself has seen a rise of 37% over one year for hair extension claims.

The thefts commonly occur at the ports, when the goods get offloaded after arrival, or in transit to their final destinations in hijacking incidents.  

"With any risk, overall, there's an entire leg that you follow, broadly from the producer to the buyer. It gets packed and it gets loaded at source and maybe again at a distributor or freight forwarder and once again at the ports. Whenever it stops moving and passes through a new pair of hands there is an increased risk of theft.

"We have certain hotspots in South Africa, distribution centres in the Joburg area specifically. So those are the more common incidents," she said.

She said cargo travelling on the Johannesburg route mostly comes through the Durban port and signals that South Africa's illicit trade market for hair is largely concentrated in Johannesburg.

Hair extension theft has overtaken the theft of coal, which was previously regarded as 'black gold'. With the world slowly turning to green and renewable energy, the new most prized commodity has become hair extensions, mainly those imported from India and Brazil, Hollard said.

Van Ryhn said solar panels, which are also becoming more susceptible to theft and hijacking, have seen significant import growth with South Africans seeking alternate power solutions as Eskom's unstable electricity supply burdens them.

"That is a commodity that gets imported more and more; the frequency is going up. And it's businesses as well as private clients; we have businesses that have to continue when they are offline," she said.

"Some of the components inside solar panels contain copper strips and that is also something they're [after]," said Van Rhyn.

Cannabis is also becoming a commonly stolen commodity, with the company having experienced hijacking exposure in Cape Town.

"[With] cannabis there are different kinds of products, broadly raw cannabis and processed cannabis such as CBD oil. When it is in its raw format, when it actually still looks like the plant, that is when it is at highest risk of hijacking,” she said.

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