Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - The hairdressing industry in Malaysia, which generates about 10 billion ringgit (US$3.21 billion) a year, is in need of some help.
According to Malaysian Hairdressing Association (MHA) president Billy Lim, it is harder for a hairdresser to get a bank loan to open a hair salon than it is to get a loan to buy a car.
It costs about 50,000 ringgit to open a nice salon, including buying the equipment, hair products, furniture and doing up the interior dcor, he says.
But hairdressers, particularly those who are just starting out, have to struggle because banks will not accept their equipment and furniture as assets or collateral and hence will not give them a loan to set up shop.
"Fishermen and farmers have it easier than us because the Government gives them funding," claims Lim.
"If we can't get bank loans, then we hope the government will look into our industry and offer us development loans or grants because we are doing a service for the people," he adds.
While there are a number of hairdressers in the country who have made their name and are doing well, he says, the other 90% or so need help.
Two months ago, Lim says, he wrote a three-page letter to the Prime Minister outlining the problems facing the hair-dressing industry and proposing solutions that the Government could do to help.
Hoping for a positive response, he hand-delivered the letter to the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya, he says.
He adds that the Prime Minister's senior private secretary, Muhammad Ammir Haron, wrote back to say that the letter had been forwarded to the International Trade and Industry Ministry. Lim says he is still waiting for a favourable response.
Pointing to the HairWorld Championships of Beauty, which is like an Olympics for the world's top hairdressers, Lim believes Malaysian hairdressers are good enough to compete in it and win a medal or two for the country. (The hairdressers compete every two years for their respective countries in different categories of hair styling.)
But what is holding them back right now is the cost, he explains. "If we go, we represent the country yet we have to fork out our own money for the flight, accommodation and fees to compete.
"And those from the smaller salons might need to even close their outlets for a few days in order to go."
This year's HairWorld is being held in early October in Milan, Italy.
Jimmy Choo or Zang Toi made it big in shoes and fashion design respectively, primarily because they ventured abroad, Lim points out.
"So our hairdressers need to participate in these international platforms to be recognised and make their name," he says, hoping for Government support and funds (like it provides for sports tournaments) to help the best in the industry participate in HairWorld and other international competitions.
Lim estimates that the local hairdressing industry as a whole, including cutting and styling services, products, equipment, advertising, modelling and entertainment events, generate about 10 billion ringgit a year in revenue.
On a more personal level, Lim thinks Malaysians are not paying enough attention to their hair.
"They think nothing of paying 2.20 ringgit for a cup of coffee and drink a cup a day which comes up to 66 ringgit a month. They pay 30 ringgit a week for petrol for their car but they are reluctant to pay 35 ringgit a month on average for a hair cut," he says.
"Hair is so important. We wear it all the time even when we sleep yet people want to pay the least money for it, " he says.
For him, (unlike plastic surgery) people can do "harmless surgery" with hair where they can cut it, shape it, perm it, straighten it, colour it and all sorts of other things to change and enhance the way they look.
Most people in developed countries, he says, are well groomed and he would love for Malaysians to look just as good.
He points out that in developed countries, men go for hair cuts every three weeks but here they do it once every one-and-a-half month.
As for women in developed nations, he says they visit the hair salon every month, and some even go every two weeks or so, but in Malaysia, the fairer sex visits the salon on average once every two months.
"People pay more for the clothes they wear than their haircut but you really need to go to the hair salon more often than you go shopping because you should look well groomed, and hair is your one and only'."
To illustrate his point, he says: "With clothes, if you don't like it, you can always throw it out and buy another; but not with hair."
A decent cut by a junior stylist costs on average 35 ringgit while one by a senior stylist ranges from 60 ringgit to 100 ringgit or more, depending on the experience.
But Lim stresses that this is a very small amount to pay to "dress your hair".
"The more you pay, the better quality you get, " he says, adding that he can easily spot one of those 12-ringgit-in-15 minute hair cut because of just how poorly it is done.
Qualification-wise, Lim who has been in the hair industry for 28 years, says it is easy enough to become a hair dresser.
It takes only six to eight months of training and then a whole lot of practice to gain and build on the skills and expertise.
And in two to three years (though some learn a lot faster) with frequent practice, he reckons a person can become a good hair dresser.
In his book, a hairdresser needs to have done at least 100 hair cuts before he or she becomes very good at it.
"You need to know how to use the tools, the products and understand hair, its texture, thickness, density, colour and length to do a good job."
According to the MHA's estimates, there are 40,000 hair dres sers in the country.
For Lim, there should be more, at least double that number, because hair dressers are currently working 10 to 12 hours a day and those in the smaller hair salons can't afford to take leave or a day off.
One problem the industry faces is people looking down at hair dressing as a profession, he says.
"This is usually because those who venture into hairdressing are mostly school dropouts, those without higher education, divorcees and other problem cases," he says.
We want the Government to encourage all kind s of people to join the trade, as hair dressing is a good professional career, he says.
"We are of service to everybody." But even customers who appreciate good hairdressing when asked if they would encourage their children to take it up say they prefer their kids to be highly educated and "professionals", he laments.
"So it's good for me but it's not good enough for you. That's sad."
Lim reckons only 0.3% of those involved in the industry are university graduates who a re in it because of their interest.
Another problem affecting the local hair industry is that about 30% of trained hairdressers tend to seek greener pastures abroad, leaving Malaysia to practise in countries like Singapore, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand and the United States.
Talking about pay, an average junior hair stylist can earn 1,200 ringgit per month which, Lim admits, is lower than what some foreign workers make. But they do get a percentage of each hair cut they do.
Senior stylists get about 6,000 ringgit to 10,000 ringgit or more, depending on where they work and how sought after they are.
"Celebrity hair stylists, the brand ambassador hair stylists and well-known ones earn very much more than that," he says, adding that a number of hairdressers who have made it are rich, own expensive houses, drive luxury cars and spend tonnes (of money) on branded goods.
"They are private so it's hard to estimate how much they earn," he says, adding that a good hairdresser should be not only good in hair-do skills but also in business skills to sell and promote their services.
* US$1 = 3.11 ringgit