Once upon a time, wigs were the ugly, even more stigmatised stepsister of weaves. Perhaps it was the detachable element or the fact wigs were so often associated with hair loss, as opposed to variety, that saw them ridiculed or written off. But the rise of the natural-hair movement, and increased awareness of what makes afro hair healthy, has seen many opt for wigs as they patiently grow their own hair back out after a big chop. Instead of risking traction alopecia and dealing with the difficulty of washing that comes with weaves, wigs are now the new go-to and, since they’re reusable, remain a far most cost-effective alternative.
This doesn’t mean they’re cheap, however. A good wig can set someone back a fair few pounds (one can easily cost upwards of £200) and if you’re someone who, like me, prefers to switch things up regularly, it can soon become an expensive habit. And a wasteful one, too – when a wig begins to look tired, is heat-damaged by the continued straightening we don’t want to put our real hair through or generally looks worse for wear, there doesn’t seem to be any other option than to simply throw it out, despite how much you’ve grown to love it or how much it may have cost.
Enter Sade Popoola, the Wigs Concierge. Popoola is the founder of a wig-restoration start-up that aims to put an end to prematurely parting with much-loved wigs. Wig restoration is a practice I’ve only come across on YouTube and usually is more of a last-ditch bid to salvage a wig from the depths of hair hell (the bin), as opposed to restoring it to its former glory or even upgrading it. But, for Popoola, who has worked as a hairdresser for over 15 years, it is something of an art form – one she perfected when a chance eye test saw her rushed to hospital due to hemorrhaging in her eye, and then off work for two months.
During her downtime, she became bored. And with a room full of neglected wigs, she started to busy herself by revamping and restoring them to pass the time.
“It was like therapy. I was enjoying it. I was like, you know what? This is the hairdressing I’m going to do. I’m going to zone in on just the wigs.”
She launched her business in January this year as a mail-order service, where women send their wigs to her and she sorts them over a period of three to five days, returning them in mint condition after a process that she keeps strictly under wraps. It costs between £50 and £150, depending on length and damage. The average cost of a wig – depending on length, amount of hair bundles, vendor the hair bundles are bought from, country it’s sourced from and hairdresser that is sewing it – can easily extend into the hundreds.
The most challenging client I’ve had to date was this lady who was advised by a friend that she could wash her expensive Peruvian weave in a washing machine
This isn’t news to many black women, who have learnt to live with spending extortionate amounts when it comes to haircare. Black women spend six times more on hair than white women in the UK, often unnecessarily and something I am most certainly guilty of myself. Anyone who knows me knows I love a good wig – the ease and efficiency with which you can change your length, texture, hair colour and mood is unparalleled. And sadly, over the years, I’ve had to part with several beloved (and pricey) wig units simply because I didn’t know how to fix them once they began losing their lustre. The idea of restoring of wigs appealed to me not only because it is far less wasteful and more sustainable, but because it meant I wouldn’t have to fork out any time I wanted to change my hair. But does it actually work?
When I came across the service, my initial reaction was shock at the fact I’d never come across it before. When I received my previously knotted, dried-out, tangled wig back from Popoola after two days – now silky, detangled and sleek – I was gobsmacked. I had kept it because I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out after spending so much money on it and it quite literally looked better than it did when I first got it made. But compared to other clients, my wig wasn’t an extreme restoration case. Popoola is often taking on wigs that are usually believed to be beyond repair, including synthetic-mix wigs, which have shelf lives of sometimes just a few months.
“The most challenging client I’ve had to date was this lady who was advised by a friend that she could wash her expensive Peruvian weave in a washing machine. It stuck together, matted like mad. When I fixed it she said, ‘You know what? I’m going to start calling you the Wig Whisperer.’ She couldn’t believe it!”
So far, she hasn’t had to turn away a single wig and even accepts requests for toupees. Her service aims to cater to individual customer needs - she offers a block discount for cancer patients for instance. Popoola has noted increasingly diverse clientele – like many trends founded within the black community, wigs as a part of your day-to-day look as opposed to a one-off buy for fancy dress are slowly infiltrating the mainstream. And, just like several other black beauty hacks, hordes have been reintroduced to them via the Kardashians, with Kylie Jenner being a committed wig-wearer, along with her sister Kim. Black beauty writers, like Vogue contributing beauty editor Funmi Fetto and Stylist’s Giselle La Pompe-Moore, have helped bring them to the fore, too.
Popoola says the most common reason wigs need to be restored in the first place is because most wig vendors and stylists don’t provide the correct advice when it comes to maintaining them (she advises daily brushing of the hair at the nape, use of a wig stand to maintain shape, regular conditioning and wide-tooth combs or hands for detangling) and simply don’t know how to look after them themselves.
“We’ve been told that it’s a wig so we can’t do anything,” she tells me. “[Hairdressers] don’t know what to do! Another lady came in with a wig that she really loved and it was a synthetic mix. She took it to a salon and said could you revive this for me and they told her to throw it away. When she heard about me, she screamed! And I did it.”
Whether it’s to bring your favourite unit back from the dead, to save money when you’re low on funds but in need of a new ’do or simply because you’re fed up of throwing out hundreds of pounds worth of hair and hairstyling, the Wigs Concierge is a gamechanger for wig wearers. Get ready to waste your money on something other than new hair.