Nairobi hair salon defies pandemic with 'coronavirus' style

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Through winces and grins, two girls wearing face masks and surrounded by posters of different hairstyles bowed their heads for their hairdressers. But the spiky look they were getting – “the coronavirus” – was still too new to appear on any poster.

In Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, hairdressers have created a new style, designed to emulate the prickly appearance of the virus under a microscope.

It’s the latest example of service industry workers finding ways to appeal as stay-at-home rules and collapsing incomes reduce customer numbers.

The three braiders at the Mama Brayo Beauty Salon start by parting their clients’ hair into about a dozen sections. They then twist and wrap each one with thick black thread, so it can stand out straight in defiance of gravity. The resulting tresses resemble the spike proteins on a coronavirus membrane.

“It’s just simple and very cheap for every person to do it,” stylist Diana Andayi told Reuters. The look is adapted from similar styles she has seen from Nigeria.

Its price – less than $1 – has been set with virus-depleted budgets in mind.

Coronavirus has infected 384 and killed 15 in Kenya and wreaked havoc on the economy, especially for informal and low-wage workers.

Hair salons can stay open under Kenyan restrictions and closing voluntarily was out of the question, said Andayi.

“It’s a hard life. We need to hustle every day so we can get food on our tables.”

But business has all but collapsed. Pre-outbreak, a good day brought in 3,000 shillings ($28). Now, it’s a quarter of that, salon owner Leunita Abwala said. But she hopes the new style will boost business.

“We are still suffering because demand is very low,” Abwala said.

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