Maybe you recall the second 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 imagine that her experience was no more possible, that the business of human hair had gone how of your guillotine – however, it’s booming. Modern marketplace for extensions made of real human hair is increasing with an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported into the UK, padded out with 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 in comparison with that relating to america.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who seems to be supplying all this hair and, secondly, who on this planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, either side of your market are cagey. Nobody wants to admit precisely where they may be importing hair from and females with extensions prefer to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is their own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain that this locks result 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 on earth, so there’s lots of hair to flog.
This has been referred to as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a satisfactory story to inform your client when you 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 is most likely a grim one. There are reports of female prisoners and females in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so individuals in charge can market it off. Even if your women aren’t coerced, no one can make certain that the hair’s original owner received a good – or any – price.
It’s a strange anomaly inside a world through which we’re all obsessive about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems at all bothered concerning the origins in their extra hair. Then again, the industry is hard to control as well as the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through a number of different countries, that makes it hard to keep tabs on. Then this branding will come in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The reality 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 few ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but in most cases, the customer just doesn’t would like to know where hair is harvested. Inside the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are things such as ‘How do 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 from the cold Siberian regions and contains never been chemically treated’. Another site details how to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will use ash. It will smell foul. When burning, the human hair can have white smoke. Synthetic hair might be a sticky ball after burning.’ In addition to not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The highest priced option is blonde European hair, a packet that can fetch a lot more than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for starters. Her hair collection used to be estimated to be worth $1 million. And also the Kardashians recently launched a range of extensions beneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to offer you that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I reside in London, there are a variety of shops selling all kinds of wigs, weaves and extensions. The signs outside advertise ‘virgin hair’ (which is hair that hasn’t been treated, instead of hair from virgins). Nearby, a local hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair into the heads of ladies looking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My own, personal hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women requesting extensions to make them look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate could have used extensions, that is a tabloid story waiting to happen: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is really a precious commodity as it needs time to increase and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. You can find women prepared to buy and there are women willing to sell, but given how big the current market it’s time we learned where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine might have been fictional, but her reality still exists, now over a billion-dollar global scale.