Perhaps 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, how the business of human hair had gone the way of your guillotine – however, it’s booming. Modern industry for extensions made of real human hair keeps growing with an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8 million amount of human hair was imported into the UK, padded by helping cover their a bit of animal hair. That’s one thousand 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 those of america.
Two questions spring in your thoughts: first, who may be supplying this hair and, secondly, who on this planet is buying it? Unsurprisingly, each side of the market are cagey. Nobody wishes to admit precisely where they are importing hair from and girls with extensions like to pretend their brazilian hair is their own. Websites selling human hair will occasionally explain that this locks come from religious tonsure ceremonies in India, where women willingly swap hair in return for a blessing. At Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in southern India, tonsuring is customary and it’s one of the more-visited holy sites on earth, so there’s plenty of hair to flog.
It has been referred to as ‘happy hair’ – and it’s certainly a suitable story to know your client as you glue another woman’s dead hair to her scalp. But countries like Russia, China, Ukraine, Peru and Brazil also export considerable amounts of hair, so where’s that from? The truth behind this hair may well be a grim one. You will find reports of female prisoners and females in labour camps being forced to shave their heads so those who are in charge can sell it off off. Whether or not the women aren’t coerced, no one can make sure that the hair’s original owner received a reasonable – or any – price.
It’s a strange anomaly within a world in which we’re all enthusiastic about fair trade and ethical sourcing: nobody seems whatsoever bothered about the origins of the extra hair. But then, the marketplace is tough to regulate as well as the supply chain is convoluted. Bundles of hair can pass through a variety of countries, which makes it challenging to keep tabs on. Then your branding comes in: Chinese hair is marketed as Brazilian, Indian as European. The point 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’. Several ‘ethical’ extension companies exist, but generally, the client just doesn’t need to know in which the hair is harvested. Within the FAQ sections of human hair websites, most queries are stuff like ‘How will i take care of it’ or ‘How long can it last?’ rather than ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ One profoundly sinister website selling ‘virgin Russian hair’ boasts the hair ‘has been grown within the cold Siberian regions and contains never been chemically treated’. Another site details the best way to distinguish human and artificial hair: ‘Human hair will use ash. It is going to 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 of which can fetch greater than £1,000. So who buys this? Well, Beyoncé first. Her hair collection was once estimated to become worth $1 million. Along with the Kardashians recently launched a selection of extensions underneath the name ‘Hair Kouture’, designed to provide you with that ‘long hair don’t care attitude’.
Near where I live in London, there are many of shops selling all sorts 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 nearby hairdresser does a roaring trade in stitching bundles of hair to the heads of ladies looking to 33dexjpky like cast members from The Only Way Is Essex. My 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 might have used extensions, which is a tabloid story waiting to occur: ‘Kate wears my hair!’
Human hair is really a precious commodity because it needs time to develop and artificial substitutes are viewed inferior. There are actually women happy to buy there are women willing to sell, but given the dimensions of the marketplace it’s about time we discovered where it’s all from and who benefits. Fantine could have been fictional, but her reality still exists, now on the billion-dollar global scale.