Israeli wig industry hit on the head by coronavirus

With the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, and with restrictions on mass gatherings, Israeli ultra-Orthodox women have stopped buying new wigs.

al-monitor After real human hair wigs were removed from the display, shop window dummies are bareheaded in a wig shop in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, Israel, May 14, 2004. Several Israeli rabbis issued a ban this week on wigs made in India from human hair, saying said the hair may have been used in Hindu religious ceremonies, which are considered idolatrous by Orthodox Judaism. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

Sep 16, 2020

"Each year at this time I buy a new wig. It’s my personal treat. I really look forward to it. It makes me feel young and beautiful. Then, on Rosh Hashana [Jewish New Year] I arrive to the synagogue in a new dress and a new, fashionable hairstyle," ultra-Orthodox Esti Goldman said. But this year, she will probably not go to the synagogue, and she is not getting a new wig. "Financially, times are tougher this year. And in any case, the government has restricted the number of people allowed at the synagogues. Even for Rosh Hashana dinner we will be just the nuclear family, without all the cousins, uncles and aunts. So what’s the point of a new wig?" she told Al-Monitor.

The coronavirus-induced economic crisis has hit Israelis from all walks of life; people have less money to spend on luxury items. This includes the ultra-Orthodox. And so, less women have been buying wigs in the last six months. Now that the government has declared a nationwide lockdown through the Jewish High Holidays season, wig shops in Israel fear for the future of their industry.

The wig industry in Israel is different from any other country, as most of the clients are ultra-Orthodox women. Once they marry, they cover their natural hair with a wig wherever they go. It is a religious modesty requirement. In many aspects, the ultra-Orthodox community is considered ultra-conservative, but not in regard to wigs. Indeed, no ultra-Orthodox will wear a pink wig or one with blue stripes, but many of these women are searching for the top fashion trends.

Israeli-American fashion wig stylist Dini Weinberg said, “The wig has the double bonus of covering the hair totally, while, simultaneously, appearing completely natural and, in most cases, more beautiful than the woman’s natural hair."

Many ultra-Orthodox women are not active on Facebook or use the internet at all. But this does not stop them from staying up to date on the latest hairstyles in Hollywood or in Paris. The hairstyle of the first lady Melania Trump, for instance, is a much-desired model. The hairstyles of Selena Gomez, Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian and Princess Kate Middleton are in high demand also.

Goldman said that the more modern ultra-Orthodox women are seeking the most trendy, fashionable look, with prices reaching several thousand shekels, while more conservative women will stick with a simple, shoulder-length wig.

Gila, who lives in Bnei Brak, told Al-Monitor that buying a wig is her biggest personal expenditure each year, adding, "I like dressing up fashionably and I am willing to spend money on this. An expensive wig is my top priority. I prefer buying a new wig every three to four years — getting one made out of natural hair, adjusted the way I like it — then buying a wig that looks like a wig."

Amir Zahavi, owner of Rivka Zahavi wigs and hair fashion company, which has been in business for four decades, told Al-Monitor that they manufacture wigs in all styles in various price categories. He said that the current economic crisis and the restrictions imposed as of this coming Friday are certainly affecting his clientele. “A person sick from cancer, awaiting chemotherapy, will buy a wig no matter what. And it is usually reimbursed by social security. A man or a woman suffering from thin hair or even alopecia will invest in a new wig. A young ultra-Orthodox woman getting married will obviously buy herself her first wig. But 'ordinary' ultra-Orthodox women who normally buy new wigs for the High Holiday season might skip that this year. Instead, they will pay for their wigs to be repaired or refreshed. They might cut the wig a bit shorter. People are careful about their spending, and the women know they won’t be hosting 30 or 40 people for holiday lunches and dinners as they usually do," he added.

Zahavi manages a large business, with wigs manufactured both in Israel and in China. He noted that the wig plants in China have almost come to a halt. The collection of natural hair in Europe, for natural hair wigs, has also been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic and by the lockdowns in different countries. "We are a big company so we have managed to survive so far. We work with a varied clientele who are not only ultra-Orthodox women. We help people undergoing chemotherapy, and we also [supply wigs for] TV shows. Obviously the situation of the smaller companies is much tougher," he concluded.