Perhaps 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 actually is eventually forced into prostitution. It could be nice to consider that her experience was no more possible, that this business of human hair had gone how in the guillotine – but the truth is, it’s booming. The modern niche for extensions made of real human hair is growing in an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million worth of human hair was imported into the UK, padded by helping cover their a bit of animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or if you prefer, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales in comparison with that from the united states.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who is supplying this all hair and, secondly, who on the planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, either side in the market are cagey. Nobody wishes to admit precisely where these are importing hair from and ladies with extensions want to pretend their brazilian hair is the own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain how the locks originate from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in turn for a blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s probably the most-visited holy sites worldwide, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
This has been referred to as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a sufficient story to share with your client while 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 probably a grim one. You can find reports of female prisoners and females in labour camps being required to shave their heads so those who work in charge can sell it off. Even when the women aren’t coerced, no person can ensure that the hair’s original owner received a decent – or any – price.
It’s a strange anomaly within a world through which we’re all passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems by any means bothered concerning the origins of the extra hair. But, the current market is hard to regulate along with the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can move through many different countries, that makes it difficult to keep tabs on. Then a 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 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 in many instances, the individual just doesn’t want to know where the hair is harvested. Within the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are such things as ‘How will i maintain it’ or ‘How long could it last?’ rather than ‘Whose hair will it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that this hair ‘has been grown in the cold Siberian regions and it has never been chemically treated’. Another site details the way to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will consider ash. It can smell foul. When burning, a persons hair shows 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 costly choice is blonde European hair, a packet of which can fetch more than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for starters. Her hair collection used to be estimated being worth $1 million. Along with the Kardashians have recently launched an array of extensions within 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 types of wigs, weaves and extensions. The signs outside advertise ‘virgin hair’ (which can be hair that hasn’t been treated, as an alternative to hair from virgins). Nearby, a neighborhood hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair in to the heads of women looking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My very own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women requesting extensions so they are look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate probably have used extensions, and that is a tabloid story waiting to happen: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is actually a precious commodity because it needs time to work to develop and artificial substitutes are believed inferior. There are actually women prepared to buy there are women happy to sell, but given the size of the marketplace it’s about time we determined 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.