Hair. We have a love-hate relationship with it. Women spend so much money on hair removal techniques like threading, waxing, normal hair cutting, hair removal creams, and laser hair removal. Then, there’s the opposite end of that spectrum–men and women who want their hair to grow longer and thicker. So, everything from castor oil to egg-based hair masks have found their way into hair-care routines. In fact, hair concerns like premature balding is such an issue for men that an entire movie, Bala, has been made on it, which will star Ayushmann Khurrana.
Celebrities spearheaded the movement towards being more accepting of wigs and hair extensions. Once upon a time, the only person who wore a wig was the old uncle down the street who wanted to hide his round, balding head. Now, everyone from Kylie Jenner to your stylish neighbourhood aunty is rocking hair extensions. But, the question is, where does this hair come from?
Underprivileged women give up their hair
Indian women are well known for having thick, luscious, and beautiful hair. A long and shiny mane of hair is one of our prized possessions. So, it’s no surprise that a huge chunk of the hair worn by supermodels on Victoria’s Secret to film stars like Sarah Jessica Parker is sourced from India.
Temples in South India have thousands of devotees who come and worship. Some of them shave off their hair as an act of devotion. The temples collect the hair and sell it off to the highest bidder. While many temples use the money collected to give back to the community by setting up schools and charities, there are concerns about the money being misused. For example, barbers in temples are paid as little as 10 rupees per haircut. But, in the end, these women are voluntarily shaving off their hair so, largely, hair from temples is considered “ethically sourced”.
There’s another reason this hair is prized. It’s considered “virgin” hair–locks that have not been chemically treated. Since most of the women who shave their hair in temples come from rural areas, it’s highly unlikely that their hair has been chemically treated, making it a high-demand product. But, there have been cases where husbands have forced their wives to shave their hair so that they will be able to sell it. Some women have actually been attacked, held at gunpoint, and had their hair cut off.
Russia and Vietnam in the spotlight
Natural blonde hair is finer and smoother in texture than other hair colours. While you can bleach dark hair you get from India and Vietnam and sell it off as blonde, it will not blend well with the natural hair of blonde women in Western countries. This is why natural blonde hair is a sought-after product in the hair market.
Russian women from poor families and those from rural areas are the ones who end up selling their hair for a price. Many times, they sell their hair for as less as $20 (about 1,500 rupees). But, when finished, that same hair sells at $1,000 (about 70,000 rupees) at reputed salons worldwide.
Vietnam has also been under the spotlight for its role in the hair trade. The hair that comes from the country is usually thick, straight, and of high quality. A reputed lifestyle publication did an investigation where they found that some Vietnamese women sold their hair for as little as $2 dollars. That’s about 150 rupees. Yes, as little as that.
Many companies flatly refuse to confirm where it is that they source their hair. The extensions and wig industry is a shady one that works along the margins of society exploiting vulnerable women. So, the next time you visit a salon looking for extensions, chances are the beautiful new look you end up with came with the ugly story of it being ripped off the head of another, more vulnerable woman.