Maybe you recall the moment 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 could be nice to think that her experience was no more possible, the business of human hair had gone the way in which of your guillotine – however, it’s booming. The present day market for extensions manufactured from real human hair is increasing with an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported in to the UK, padded out with some animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or if you want, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales in comparison to that from the US.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who may be supplying all of this hair and, secondly, who on the planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, both sides from the market are cagey. Nobody would like to admit precisely where they are importing hair from and ladies with extensions prefer to pretend their brazilian virgin hair could be the 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 exchange for any blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s probably the most-visited holy sites on earth, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
This has been referred to as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a sufficient story to inform 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 large amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The truth behind this hair might be a grim one. You will find reports of female prisoners and women in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so those in charge can sell it off. Even if your women aren’t coerced, no person can make sure that the hair’s original owner received a fair – or any – price.
It’s a strange anomaly in the world where we’re all obsessed with fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems whatsoever bothered in regards to the origins in their extra hair. However, the industry is tough to control as well as the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can pass through several different countries, that makes it challenging to keep tabs on. Then your branding can be purchased in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The reality that some websites won’t disclose where their hair arises from is significant. Hair is sourced ‘all over eastern Europe’, says Kelly Reynolds, from Lush Hair Extensions, but ‘we would not know specifically’. A couple of ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but typically, the customer just doesn’t need to know where the hair is harvested. In the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are stuff like ‘How do I maintain it’ or ‘How long does it last?’ rather than ‘Whose hair would it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts 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 consider ash. It is going to smell foul. When burning, the human hair can have white smoke. Synthetic hair will certainly 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 that can fetch over £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for starters. Her hair collection used to be estimated to get worth $1 million. As well as the Kardashians have recently launched a range of extensions underneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide you with that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I live in London, there are numerous of shops selling a myriad 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, the local hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair into the heads of ladies planning to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Way Is Essex. My own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women seeking extensions so they are look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate may have used extensions, which is a tabloid story waiting to take place: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is really a precious commodity as it will take time to cultivate and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. You will find women ready to buy there are women willing to sell, but given the size of the industry it’s about time we discovered where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine may have been fictional, but her reality still exists, now with a billion-dollar global scale.