Maybe you recall the second 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 no longer an actuality, that this business of human hair had gone how from the guillotine – but the truth is, it’s booming. The modern marketplace for extensions created from real human hair is increasing in 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 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 to that relating to the united states.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who seems to be supplying all this hair and, secondly, who on earth is buying it? Unsurprisingly, each side in the market are cagey. Nobody desires to admit precisely where they are importing hair from and ladies with extensions prefer to pretend their brazilian virgin hair is 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 for any blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s one of the more-visited holy sites worldwide, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
This has been described as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly an acceptable story to know 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 veracity behind this hair is most likely a grim one. You can find reports of female prisoners and girls in labour camps being required to shave their heads so those in charge can sell it off. Even when the women aren’t coerced, no person can be sure that the hair’s original owner received a good – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly in the world in which we’re all obsessive about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems whatsoever bothered in regards to the origins with their extra hair. However, the current market is hard to control as well as the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can move through a number of different countries, making it challenging to keep tabs on. Then the branding is available in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The truth 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 few ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but typically, the consumer just doesn’t would like to know where the hair is harvested. Inside the FAQ parts of human hair websites, most queries are things such as ‘How do you care for it’ or ‘How long will it last?’ instead of ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts that the hair ‘has been grown in the cold Siberian regions and it has never been chemically treated’. Another site details how to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will choose ash. It is going to smell foul. When burning, a persons hair can have white smoke. Synthetic hair is a sticky ball after burning.’ And also not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The most costly choice is blonde European hair, a packet in which can fetch greater than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for starters. Her hair collection used to be estimated to be worth $1 million. And also the Kardashians recently launched a selection of extensions under the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I reside in London, there are many of shops selling a myriad 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 in to the heads of girls wanting to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My hairdresser tells me she has middle-aged, middle-class women seeking extensions to ensure they 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 really a precious commodity mainly because it will take time to grow and artificial substitutes are thought inferior. There are actually women happy to buy and there are women happy to sell, but given the size of 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.