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 is eventually forced into prostitution. It might be nice to consider that her experience was will no longer a reality, the business of human hair had gone how of the guillotine – but the truth is, it’s booming. Modern marketplace for extensions made from real human hair is growing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported in to the UK, padded by helping cover their a bit of animal hair. That’s a thousand metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe you prefer, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales when compared with those of the US.
Two questions spring in your thoughts: first, who is supplying all this hair and, secondly, who on earth is buying it? Unsurprisingly, either side of the market are cagey. Nobody desires to admit precisely where they may be importing hair from and females with extensions like to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is the own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain that the locks are derived from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in exchange for a blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s one of the more-visited holy sites worldwide, so there’s lots of hair to flog.
It has been known 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 huge amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The truth behind this hair might be a grim one. There are reports of female prisoners and females in labour camps being required to shave their heads so those who work in charge can sell it off off. Even when the women aren’t coerced, no person can ensure that the hair’s original owner received a reasonable – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly in a world through which we’re all passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems in any way bothered in regards to the origins of the extra hair. Then again, the industry is challenging to control and also the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through a number of different countries, that makes it tough to keep tabs on. Then this branding will come 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 generally, the customer just doesn’t want to find out where hair is harvested. Inside the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are things like ‘How do I take care of it’ or ‘How long can it last?’ as opposed to ‘Whose hair could it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts the hair ‘has been grown inside the cold Siberian regions and has never been chemically treated’. Another site details how you can distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will use ash. It would smell foul. When burning, the human hair shows white smoke. Synthetic hair is a sticky ball after burning.’ And also not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The highest priced choice is blonde European hair, a packet which can fetch over £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for starters. Her hair collection was once estimated to become worth $1 million. And also the Kardashians have recently launched an array of extensions beneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to offer you that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I live in London, there are a number of shops selling all kinds of wigs, weaves and extensions. The signs outside advertise ‘virgin hair’ (that is hair that hasn’t been treated, instead of hair from virgins). Nearby, a neighborhood hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair in the heads of women looking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Way Is Essex. My own, personal hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women looking for extensions so they are look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate could have used extensions, that is a tabloid story waiting to take place: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is really a precious commodity since it needs time to cultivate and artificial substitutes are considered inferior. There are actually women ready to buy and then there are women happy to sell, but given the actual size of the market it’s about time we discovered where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine seemed to be fictional, but her reality still exists, now over a billion-dollar global scale.