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 actually is eventually forced into prostitution. It would be nice to consider that her experience was no longer a real possibility, that the business of human hair had gone just how from the guillotine – however, it’s booming. The present day marketplace for extensions made of real human hair keeps growing in an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported in to the UK, padded by helping cover their some animal hair. That’s thousands of metric tons and, end to finish, almost 80 million miles of hair, or maybe you like, two million heads of 50cm long hair. And our hair industry pales in comparison with that relating to the US.
Two questions spring to mind: first, who may be supplying all of this hair and, secondly, who in the world is buying it? Unsurprisingly, both sides of the market are cagey. Nobody wants to admit precisely where they may be importing hair from and females with extensions want to pretend their brazilian virgin hair could be 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 turn for the blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s probably the most-visited holy sites on the planet, so there’s a good amount of hair to flog.
This has been known as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a suitable story to know your client when 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 may well be a grim one. There are reports of female prisoners and women in labour camps being compelled to shave their heads so individuals in charge can sell it off. Even if your women aren’t coerced, no one can make certain that the hair’s original owner received a good – or any – price.
It’s an unusual anomaly within a world through which we’re all obsessed with fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems at all bothered about the origins with their extra hair. But, the industry is tough to control and the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can move through a variety of countries, making it challenging to keep tabs on. Then this branding is available in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The truth 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 number of ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but in many instances, the customer just doesn’t want to know where hair is harvested. From the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are things such as ‘How should i look after it’ or ‘How long does it last?’ as an alternative to ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts how the hair ‘has been grown from 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 choose ash. It will smell foul. When burning, a persons hair will show white smoke. Synthetic hair might be a sticky ball after burning.’ And also not melting, human hair styles better. Accept no imitations, ladies.
The most expensive option is blonde European hair, a packet which can fetch more than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé for one. Her hair collection used to be estimated to become worth $1 million. And the Kardashians recently launched a range of extensions under the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to offer you that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I reside in London, there are a number of shops selling a myriad 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 into the heads of females planning to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Method Is Essex. My 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 probably have used extensions, which is a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is a precious commodity because it will take time to grow and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. There are actually women prepared to buy and then there are women ready to sell, but given how big the current market it’s about time we determined where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine seemed to be fictional, but her reality still exists, now on a billion-dollar global scale.