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Qingdao town's wig workshops head and shoulders above rest

By XIE CHUANJIAO in Qingdao, Shandong | (China Daily) | 2022-08-19

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[Photo/IC]

The township of Ligezhuang in Jiaozhou, a county-level city belonging to Qingdao, Shandong province, may only cover 75.8 square kilometers, but it's far more international than most towns of its size in China. Nearly every factory and store in the township has billboards written in at least three languages.

Ligezhuang is the largest highend wig-making center in the world, producing more than 40 percent of the high-end wigs on the global market. It also makes about one-sixth of the world's hats and caps, according to the township government.

Ligezhuang's wig industry dates back to the 1980s when Japanese and South Korean companies began investing there. Today, almost every family has members involved in the business, said Gao Yuqian, an official from the cross-border e-commerce industrial park of the China-SCO Local Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Area, which is located in Jiaozhou.

"The best wigs are made of real hair," Gao said. "Such high-end wigs are usually tailor-made for overseas customers."

In the beginning, local workers traveled around the country collecting hair to bring back for further processing. "Around the year 2000, some local entrepreneurs mastered some of the processing skills and started to open their own businesses," local wig worker Zhang Zhen recalled. "Since then, more and more wig workshops have emerged in Ligezhuang and nearby areas. Thanks to wigs, the township's economy has undergone rapid growth."

The sector has created 36,000 jobs, and generated an output value of 2.8 billion yuan ($415 million) last year. Official statistics showed that it was home to about 300 wig-making companies and workshops, but according to Ye Mingjing, general manager of Qingdao Long Qi Hair Products Co, whose customers include former US first lady, Michelle Obama, "the number is definitely more than that if you count the trade companies and teams".

"Although overseas sales have declined due to the impact of COVID-19, we will see an explosive rebound when the pandemic ends if we plan in advance," he added.

Led by the wig business, the manufacturing of hats and other accessories in Ligezhuang has also undergone robust growth, developing a complete industrial chain that extends from textiles and embroidery to packaging and sales.

There are currently 386 hat-making companies in the town, producing more than 144 million hats a year. More than 90 percent of their products are sold overseas.

The hats and caps worn by US presidential election teams and during the Olympics mostly come from Ligezhuang, and just in terms of baseball caps, the town produces one-third of those sold globally.

The industries have become an important avenue of employment. "It's very easy to find a job as companies and factories are all over the town," said Yan Hong, who moved to Ligezhuang with her husband about 10 years ago. "It takes me only 10 minutes to go to work by bike and I get off work at 4:30 pm, so I can take care of my child."

Some companies are also returning their attention to the emerging domestic market. Wig makers have developed a product-plus-service model in which they employ hair designers at their wig stores to provide customers with on-site styling.

However, challenges remain, such as rising material and labor costs, changing market demands and stricter regulations on environmental protection and production safety.

"The profit from manufacturing alone is lower and lower these days, so if you want to survive, the most important thing is to build up your own brand and engage in more intelligent manufacturing," said Xu Chengru, deputy general manager of Headwear Apparel Co.