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 will be nice to believe that her experience was no more possible, that this business of human hair had gone how in the guillotine – however, it’s booming. The present day industry for extensions made of real human hair is increasing in an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported in to the UK, padded out with a small amount of animal hair. That’s a thousand metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe you want, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales in comparison to that of america.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who is supplying this hair and, secondly, who on the planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, either side in the market are cagey. Nobody wishes to admit precisely where they may be importing hair from and women with extensions like to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is their own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain how the locks come from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in turn for any blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s just about the most-visited holy sites on earth, so there’s a lot of hair to flog.
This has been known as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a sufficient story to share with 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 a lot of hair, so where’s that from? The veracity behind this hair might be a grim one. You can find reports of female prisoners and ladies in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so individuals in charge can sell it off. Even if your 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 inside a world in which we’re all passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems whatsoever bothered about the origins of their extra hair. However, the marketplace is challenging to manage and the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through many different countries, that makes it difficult to keep tabs on. Then a branding comes in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The truth that some websites won’t disclose where their hair emanates from is significant. Hair is sourced ‘all over eastern Europe’, says Kelly Reynolds, from Lush Hair Extensions, but ‘we would not know specifically’. A number of ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but in most cases, the client just doesn’t want to know where hair is harvested. In the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are such things as ‘How will i care for it’ or ‘How long does it last?’ instead of ‘Whose hair will it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts how the hair ‘has been grown within the cold Siberian regions and has never been chemically treated’. Another site details how to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will choose ash. It can smell foul. When burning, a persons hair shows white smoke. Synthetic hair will be a sticky ball after burning.’ Along with not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The most expensive option is blonde European hair, a packet of which can fetch greater than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for one. Her hair collection was once estimated being worth $1 million. And the Kardashians have recently launched a selection of extensions beneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide you with that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I reside in London, there are numerous of shops selling all types of wigs, weaves and extensions. The signs outside advertise ‘virgin hair’ (which is hair that hasn’t been treated, as opposed to hair from virgins). Nearby, a nearby hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair in the heads of women seeking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My own, personal hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women seeking extensions to ensure they look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate may have used extensions, and that is a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair can be a precious commodity because it will take time to grow and artificial substitutes are thought inferior. You will find women ready to buy and then there are women ready to sell, but given the dimensions of the current market it’s time we discovered where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine may have been fictional, but her reality still exists, now on a billion-dollar global scale.