GLEN BURNIE, Maryland — Wade Menendez laughs if you call him a wizard, but his services have dramatically transformed the appearance of black men all over the world. The 35-year-old stylist is a pioneer of cranial prosthesis, or “man weaves,” a nonsurgical procedure that fills a balding scalp with a head of hair in just hours.
The process is relatively simple: Menendez glues natural and synthetic hair pieces to the scalp and then blends them into the client’s remaining natural hair. But the transformations can be striking.
Menendez began installing hair over four years ago through the help of another stylist. Since then, his barber shop in Glen Burnie, Maryland, The W Hair Loft, has become a haven for balding black men looking for scalp rejuvenation.
Menendez also does more than just work with clients; he hosts a regular class where he’s instructed over 500 hair professionals how to do what he does. The most recent class, in October, drew stylists and barbers from as far away as London.
“There’s a big demand for [hair units] in the U.K.,” said Steve Diligence of Diligence Barber Shop in West Ealing, who flew to Maryland just to learn from Menendez firsthand. “People have seen videos from the states, and they say it’s impossible or magic.”
In the U.S., black hair care services and products is a lucrative market. Black Americans represent about 14 percent of the population but account for 85 percent of all sales in the nation’s beauty industry, according to a 2017 CNBC report. Mintel, a global market research provider, values the black hair care industry at more than $2.54 billion — a number that surprisingly excludes items like wigs, weaves, and hair care provided in salons, barber shops, and related sites.
That market helped Menendez earn over $400,000 last year through his hair business alone. He charges anywhere from $200 to $650 for initial units, and maintenance from there runs $100 to $200. Menendez says he’s even got a few (unnamed) celebrities among his clients. But the transformations are about more than simply turning a profit.
“I’m doing this to help other people — and that’s not just with that confidence but helping other people even make money,” Menendez told VICE News. “I’m always here to do whatever I can, and I feel like that’s what I’m called on to do, so I’m operating in my purpose and my destiny.”
VICE News sat in on Menendez’s class to get a first-hand look inside the world of faux fros.
This segment originally aired Nov. 28, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.