Maybe 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 is eventually forced into prostitution. It will be nice to consider that her experience was not any longer a real possibility, that this business of human hair had gone how of the guillotine – however, it’s booming. Modern niche for extensions made from real human hair is increasing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported in the UK, padded out with a bit of animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe if you like, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales in comparison with that relating to the usa.
Two questions spring in your thoughts: first, who seems to be supplying this hair and, secondly, who on this planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, each side in the market are cagey. Nobody would like to admit precisely where they are importing hair from and women with extensions like to pretend their brazilian hair is 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 one of the more-visited holy sites on the planet, so there’s a good amount of hair to flog.
This has been identified 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 huge amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The reality behind this hair may well be 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. Whether or not the women aren’t coerced, no one can ensure that the hair’s original owner received a good – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly within a world in which we’re all obsessive about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems in any way bothered concerning the origins in their extra hair. Then again, the market is difficult to control and the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can move through several different countries, making it tough to keep tabs on. Then your branding comes 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 couple of ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but in most cases, the customer just doesn’t would like to know the location where the hair is harvested. Within the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are such things as ‘How should i care for it’ or ‘How long will it last?’ as an alternative to ‘Whose hair will it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that the hair ‘has been grown within the cold Siberian regions and it has never been chemically treated’. Another site details how you can distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will consider ash. It would smell foul. When burning, a persons hair can have white smoke. Synthetic hair might be a sticky ball after burning.’ And also not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The costliest choice is blonde European hair, a packet in which can fetch a lot more than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for one. Her hair collection used to be estimated being worth $1 million. Along with the Kardashians have recently launched a range of extensions under the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I live in London, there are a variety of shops selling all kinds 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 the heads of ladies wanting to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women requesting extensions to ensure they are look ‘more like Kate Middleton’. She even suspects Kate could have used extensions, which is a tabloid story waiting to happen: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is really a precious commodity because it takes time to develop and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. There are actually women ready to buy and then there are women ready to sell, but given how big the current market it’s time we determined where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine seemed to be fictional, but her reality still exists, now over a billion-dollar global scale.