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 consider that her experience was will no longer a reality, that the business of human hair had gone the way in which of your guillotine – but the truth is, it’s booming. Modern industry for extensions created from real human hair keeps growing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported in the UK, padded out with some animal hair. That’s a thousand metric tons and, end to terminate, almost 80 million miles of hair, or if perhaps you want, 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 seems to be supplying all of this hair and, secondly, who on the planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, each side from the market are cagey. Nobody would like to admit precisely where they may be 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 originate 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 in the world, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
This has been identified as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a satisfactory story to know your client as 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 reality behind this hair is most likely a grim one. You will find reports of female prisoners and females in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so those in charge can sell it off. Even if the women aren’t coerced, no person can make sure that the hair’s original owner received a reasonable – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly in the world through which we’re all passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems at all bothered in regards to the origins with their extra hair. However, the marketplace is hard to manage along with the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through several different countries, rendering it challenging to keep tabs on. Then the branding can be purchased in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The point 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 client just doesn’t would like to know where the hair is harvested. Within the FAQ parts of human hair websites, most queries are things like ‘How do I take care of it’ or ‘How long can it last?’ as an alternative to ‘Whose hair could it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that the hair ‘has been grown inside the cold Siberian regions and it 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, a persons hair will demonstrate white smoke. Synthetic hair will certainly be a sticky ball after burning.’ In addition to not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The costliest option is blonde European hair, a packet which can fetch greater than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for just one. Her hair collection was once estimated to get worth $1 million. As well as the Kardashians 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 a number of shops selling all sorts 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, the local hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair in to the heads of women wanting to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women requesting extensions to ensure they look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate might have used extensions, which is a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is actually a precious commodity as it takes time to develop and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. You will find women willing to buy and there are women happy to sell, but given how big the marketplace it’s about time we learned 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.