Maybe you recall the minute in Les Misérables when Fantine chops off all her hair? The destitute young mother sells her long locks, then her teeth (a detail often excluded from child-friendly adaptations) before she actually is eventually forced into prostitution. It will be nice to consider that her experience was no more possible, the business of human hair had gone just how of your guillotine – but the truth is, it’s booming. The present day market for extensions created from real human hair keeps growing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported in the UK, padded by helping cover their a bit of animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe if you favor, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales when compared with that relating to the usa.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who seems to be supplying this all hair and, secondly, who on this planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, either side of your market are cagey. Nobody wishes to admit precisely where they may be importing hair from and females with extensions want to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is their own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain how the locks are derived from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in return for a blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s probably the most-visited holy sites in the world, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
This has been described as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a sufficient story to tell your client as you may glue another woman’s dead hair to her scalp. But countries like Russia, China, Ukraine, Peru and Brazil also export considerable amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The veracity behind this hair may well be a grim one. You can find reports of female prisoners and girls in labour camps being forced to shave their heads so those in charge can market it off. Even when the women aren’t coerced, no person can make sure that the hair’s original owner received a reasonable – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly in a world in which we’re all enthusiastic about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems in any way bothered concerning the origins of the extra hair. Then again, the market is difficult to control and also the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through a variety of countries, rendering it tough to keep tabs on. Then your branding comes in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The truth that some websites won’t disclose where their hair comes from is significant. Hair is sourced ‘all over eastern Europe’, says Kelly Reynolds, from Lush Hair Extensions, but ‘we would not know specifically’. A few ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but in most cases, the consumer just doesn’t want to know in which the hair is harvested. From the FAQ parts of human hair websites, most queries are stuff like ‘How will i maintain it’ or ‘How long will it last?’ as opposed to ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that the hair ‘has been grown from the cold Siberian regions and contains never been chemically treated’. Another site details the best way to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will turn to ash. It can smell foul. When burning, a persons hair will demonstrate white smoke. Synthetic hair will be a sticky ball after burning.’ In addition to not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The costliest choice is blonde European hair, a packet which can fetch a lot more than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for just one. Her hair collection was once estimated being worth $1 million. As well as the Kardashians recently launched a selection of extensions under the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I live in London, there are many of shops selling all sorts of wigs, weaves and extensions. The signs outside advertise ‘virgin hair’ (which happens to be hair that hasn’t been treated, as opposed to hair from virgins). Nearby, a local hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair into the heads of females wanting to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Way Is Essex. My own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women looking for extensions to ensure they look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate may have used extensions, which is actually a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair can be a precious commodity since it needs time to work to cultivate and artificial substitutes are considered inferior. There are women willing to buy there are women ready to sell, but given the actual size of the industry it’s about time we learned where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine seemed to be fictional, but her reality still exists, now on a billion-dollar global scale.