Perhaps 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 will be nice to imagine that her experience was no more a reality, how the business of human hair had gone just how of your guillotine – however, it’s booming. Modern marketplace for extensions made from real human hair is growing with an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported in to the UK, padded by helping cover their a little bit of animal hair. That’s one thousand 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 in comparison with that relating to the united states.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who is supplying all this hair and, secondly, who on the planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, both sides from the market are cagey. Nobody desires to admit precisely where these are importing hair from and women with extensions like to pretend their brazilian hair could be the own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain that the locks result from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in exchange to get a blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s just about the most-visited holy sites worldwide, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
It has been identified as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a sufficient story to tell your client while you 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 truth behind this hair is probably a grim one. You can find reports of female prisoners and ladies in labour camps being required to shave their heads so those who work in charge can market it off. Whether or not the women aren’t coerced, no one can make certain that the hair’s original owner received a decent – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly in the world by which we’re all obsessed with fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems at all bothered regarding the origins in their extra hair. But then, the marketplace is difficult to control and the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can pass through several different countries, rendering it challenging to keep tabs on. Then this branding can be purchased in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The fact that some websites won’t disclose where their hair originates 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 generally, the individual just doesn’t want to find out where hair is harvested. Within the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are things such as ‘How do you maintain it’ or ‘How long can 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 contains never been chemically treated’. Another site details the best way to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will consider ash. It would smell foul. When burning, the human hair shows white smoke. Synthetic hair is a sticky ball after burning.’ As well as not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The costliest choice is blonde European hair, a packet of which can fetch over £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for one. Her hair collection was once estimated to be worth $1 million. As well as the Kardashians have recently launched a variety of extensions underneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to give you 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’ (that is 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 to the heads of girls looking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women seeking extensions to ensure they are look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate could have used extensions, which is actually a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is a precious commodity because it needs time to work to grow and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. There are actually women willing to buy and then there are women happy to sell, but given the size of the market it’s about time we learned where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine could have been fictional, but her reality still exists, now on the billion-dollar global scale.