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Instagram’s New Big Wigs

Thanks to social media, Orthodox women selling ‘sheitels’ have found a new clientele outside their community

by
Nomi Kaltmann
August 19, 2021
Ira Berger/Alamy
Ira Berger/Alamy

Wigs have been worn by Orthodox Jewish women for many decades as part of following the Torah-based requirement for women to cover their heads once they are married. Many communities around the world have dedicated shops where women can buy wigs, often from other Orthodox women who sell and repair them. For years, it was a niche industry—run by Orthodox women for Orthodox women.

In the past few years, however, this business model has changed dramatically, thanks to social media.

Many businesses now operate social media accounts showcasing their wigs. While these public accounts are still typically run by Orthodox women, some of whom also run brick-and-mortar shops, almost all of these businesses have vastly increased the number of non-Jewish clients. According to Orthodox wig sellers in Israel, the U.S., England, and Australia, these days up to 40% of their clients are non-Jewish women. These clients encompass women experiencing hair loss conditions such as alopecia or women undergoing cancer treatment. Other non-Jewish clients also seek out Jewish wig sellers to purchase wigs for cosmetic rather than health or religious reasons.

“My non-Jewish clients come to me because they want something that is good, resembles their hair, lasts a long time and is a quality product,” said Liron Murdachayev, an Orthodox woman who operates a home-based wig business in Melbourne, Australia. “They can buy from any regular shop, but if they are looking for something that is that notch higher, they seek me out and purchase a wig.”

Dini Wigs is one of the largest wig accounts on Instagram, originally set up by Orthodox businesswoman Dini Weinberg. Buying from Dini is an expensive investment, with prices ranging from $2,000 all the way to $13,000 for the top-of-the-line wigs. Her business has grown to four storefronts, including three in New York and one in Israel—but it has also boomed on Instagram, with more than 100,000 followers.

Prior to social media Weinberg had worked almost exclusively with Jewish customers. “Seven years ago, I joined social media,” she said. “I saw a few Jewish bloggers started posting content, and I said, why not post about wigs?”

Weinberg’s social media account has been a runaway success: “On social media things are updated much quicker; I can post in real time,” she said, and this reality helps “people feel connected to my brand.” She has now expanded her business to service the non-Jewish market and has sold wigs to customers from countries as far flung as Kuwait, Egypt, Japan, and Denmark who know about her expertise through her social media posts. Weinberg estimates that despite her four storefronts being situated in very Jewish neighborhoods, her non-Jewish customers now account for 10%-15% of her business, and the vast majority of those customers have found her via her social media account.

Many of these new customers are buying wigs not for religious reasons, but because of hair loss resulting from medical conditions. “A lot of [health] insurance companies are actually subsidizing wigs, and we can be part of their way to get reimbursed for purchasing a wig,” Weinberg said. The global pandemic has also brought an unexpected benefit to her business. “Insurance companies have started approving wigs for people that lose hair due to COVID,” she said, noting a new source of some of her non-Jewish clients.

In the United Kingdom, Devora Oseroff runs the popular WigDoctorUK Instagram account. She estimates that prior to joining social media, 90% of her business was selling wigs to Orthodox women with the remaining 10% of sales to women who were cancer patients. “Over the years, my clientele has expanded widely across the globe, both with Jewish clients, as well as far more clients with hair loss, whether it is for medical reasons or cosmetic,” she said. Despite originally starting out her business primarily to service the local Orthodox Jewish community, she says that non-Jewish clients now account for about 40% of her new work, now that she uses social media. “The Jewish wig market is very different to the non-Jewish wig market. Many clients reach out after having a disappointing experience buying a generic wig from a website and are interesting in learning how to achieve a more desirable or customized look from their wig.”

According to Oseroff, “people often message us asking advice on specific issues they are having with their wig, and we try to use our platform to share as much information as possible.”

Not all the women who stumble across these social media pages realize that they are buying wigs from Orthodox Jewish women. Murdachayev thinks that many of her customers have no idea that she is Jewish. “I think they are looking for something quality or for someone who has the skills they need, especially if they have had a prior bad experience elsewhere,” she said.

With Murdachayev’s exceptional technical skills allowing her to repair, weave, and construct lace-fronted wigs, there is no surprise that many non-Jewish clients are seeking her out. Prior to social media she almost exclusively serviced other Orthodox women. However, since opening her Instagram account, LC Wigs, her social media presence has helped her to find a new audience with non-Jews looking for something better than the standard wigs available elsewhere. Social media has been life-changing for her. “Because I do not operate a shopfront, I am a home-based business, unless you find me via social media or word of mouth, you won’t know I exist,” she said.

Her non-Jewish clientele has grown to encompass almost half her business and she is happy to serve anyone and sell wigs to people who would otherwise have usually been unlikely to seek out an Orthodox Jewish wig seller. “A transgender woman came in last week to have a repair done on her wig and buy a new wig,” she said.

When I messaged one of Murdachayev’s non-Jewish clients to ask her why she had specifically gone to a Jewish wig seller, Murdachayev’s hunch was confirmed when her client responded: “I don’t know what a Jewish wig seller is, but I found Liron on social media and she’s really good, much better than anyone else I had gone to previously!”

Despite Murdachayev being fluent in Hebrew and knowing the terminology that Orthodox Jews would know—calling a wig a sheitel, for instance—she tries to be inclusive of all her customers when she posts on social media. She sticks to English words and simple clear language that can be understood by all prospective clients. “I never use the [Yiddish] word sheitel when talking about wigs on social media or when there is an upcoming Jewish festival like Rosh Hashanah,” she said. “I always make sure to say ‘Happy New Year’ instead of ‘Shana Tova’ because I know that many of my clients are not Jewish, so I want to make sure that they can follow what I am talking about.”

Many of her clients wear hair pieces to stay fashionable and on-trend, so Murdachayev is often busy repairing or customizing hair pieces according to their needs. Recently, she made a pink wig for one of her clients, something that would have been an unlikely order for some of her ultra-Orthodox clients.

While wig-wearing is common in the Orthodox community, it has also been part of Black culture in America for many years. Maayan Zik is a Hasidic woman living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who has taken a leadership position bringing awareness to her community of the racism that many Black people experience in America. As part of the Chabad community in Crown Heights, she wears a wig.

“Hair in America has a layer of racism,” Zik said. “In web searches for ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ there are traditional Black hairstyles like braids and Afros listed, which are seen by some bosses as unkempt and unpresentable in the workplace.”

Some Black women in America tried to get around this racism by adopting wigs, among other hair treatments. “Wigs help women quickly achieve smoother and straighter hairstyles while saving their heads from chemical burns and hours doing their hair,” Zik said.

Zik knows that there are non-Jewish Black women who shop at Jewish wig shops: “Once, I was at Shuly’s wig salon [in New York] and drummed up a conversation with a Black woman who was in the salon,” she said. “She was a non-Jewish, professional woman that was there to get her hairpiece done. She told me she wanted to look good for the office.”

Nomi Kaltmann is a former Tablet magazine fellow, and an Australian lawyer.

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