Maybe you recall as soon as 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 would be nice to think that her experience was will no longer possible, how the business of human hair had gone just how from the guillotine – however, it’s booming. The present day marketplace for extensions manufactured from real human hair is growing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported to the UK, padded out with some animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to terminate, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe if you prefer, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales when compared with that relating to the usa.
Two questions spring in your thoughts: first, who may be supplying all of this hair and, secondly, who on earth is buying it? Unsurprisingly, each side in the market are cagey. Nobody desires to admit precisely where these are importing hair from and females with extensions like to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is the own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain the locks result 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 a lot of hair to flog.
This has been referred to 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 huge amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The reality behind this hair is probably a grim one. There are reports of female prisoners and ladies in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so individuals in charge can sell it off off. Even when the women aren’t coerced, no one can be sure 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 whatsoever bothered about the origins in their extra hair. But, the industry is tough to control and the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can go through a variety of countries, making it challenging to keep tabs on. Then your branding will come in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The truth that some websites won’t disclose where their hair arises from is significant. Hair is sourced ‘all over eastern Europe’, says Kelly Reynolds, from Lush Hair Extensions, but ‘we would not know specifically’. A number of ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but generally, the consumer just doesn’t want to know the location where the hair is harvested. Within the FAQ parts of human hair websites, most queries are things like ‘How do you care for it’ or ‘How long could it last?’ instead of ‘Whose hair would it be anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that this hair ‘has been grown from the cold Siberian regions and has never been chemically treated’. Another site details the way to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will use ash. It would smell foul. When burning, a persons hair will demonstrate white smoke. Synthetic hair might be 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 that can fetch over £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé first. Her hair collection was once estimated to be worth $1 million. As well as the Kardashians have recently launched a variety of extensions under the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide you with 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’ (that is hair that hasn’t been treated, rather than hair from virgins). Nearby, a neighborhood hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair in the heads of females wanting to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My very own hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women asking for extensions so they are 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 mainly because it needs time to cultivate and artificial substitutes are thought inferior. You will find women prepared to buy there are women happy to sell, but given the dimensions of the industry 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 on the billion-dollar global scale.