The hair trade’s dirty secret | Women

Graham Wake is hardly taking a look at me however one look is sufficient. “I may pay about £75 to £100 should you had a pixie reduce,” he says briskly. “If you happen to went for a brief bob I would provide you with £40.” It is not typically you receives a commission for a haircut, however Wake’s enterprise, Bloomsbury Wigs, now depends solely on hair sourced from the heads of ladies within the UK. Every week 30-40 envelopes filled with ponytails arrive at his workplace. Every single day, one or two girls go to to have their hair valued, reduce off, and restyled. Some are tired of lengthy hair, others want the cash, and some are elevating cash for charity.

Wake says he prefers paying a good worth to girls within the UK to purchasing hair from brokers, and that 90% of the coils piled into the clear plastic containers that encompass him are used to create wigs for individuals who have misplaced their hair. The remainder are for hair extensions, which is what my locks may turn into. “In case your hair was any curlier, we could not take it,” he says. “It might simply matt after some time, however as it’s I may use it.”

It feels faintly embarrassing to be discussing the financial worth of one thing as private as my hair. However maybe I should not have been stunned at myself; girls’s hair has all the time been a contentious concern. From orthodox Jews, Muslims, and nuns masking it for modesty, to a badge of femininity and wonder in fairytales resembling Rapunzel, hair has all the time exerted a strong metaphorical pull. Even in as we speak’s extra secular world it acts as a lightning rod for our attitudes to girls: one thing US gymnast Gabby Douglas found when her gold medal win on the Olympics was overshadowed by a row over whether or not her messy ponytail mirrored badly on the black neighborhood. Miley Cyrus’s resolution to chop her hair brief in the summertime was taken as an indication that one other teen pop star’s life was spiralling uncontrolled, very similar to Britney Spears in 2007.

In the present day, hair is greater than only a image: it’s massive enterprise. From India to Peru, the human hair commerce has unfold throughout the globe, and it has the UK in its grasp. Final yr HM Income and Customs recorded greater than £38m price of hair (human, with some blended human and animal) coming into the nation, making the UK the third greatest importer of human hair on this planet.

Regardless of the recession the UK extension trade is booming, with hair extension firms claiming it’s price between £45m and £60m (in line with London based mostly trade analysis agency IBISWorld, income from hair and wonder salons might be £3.64bn in 2012-13). Nice Lengths Hair Extensions, who provide greater than 1,000 salons within the UK, report a staggering 70% development prior to now 5 years. And in line with Daybreak Riley from Balmain Hair, which sells extensions to 1000’s of salons and a whole bunch of wholesalers, that is solely the start. “It is nonetheless an rising market. We are actually seeing the expansion that color [hair dye] noticed 30 years in the past.”

Women at work in a hair processing factory in India
Girls at work in a hair processing manufacturing unit in India. {Photograph}: Dieter Telemans/Panos

Within the upmarket central London salon Inanch, a full head of Nice Lengths extensions prices round £900, and lasts as much as six months. And whereas income from cuts, colouring and blow drys have remained static, in 2012 the salon’s hair extension enterprise has grown 60% yr on yr. Proprietor Inanch Emir has well-known shoppers together with Cher Lloyd, Mischa Barton and Saturdays singer Rochelle Wiseman, and once I go to one weekday afternoon her small salon is buzzing. “I do about two or three hair extensions a day,” she says. “I used to try this a month.”

A stylist is ending off a head of dramatic, tumbling curls for Bianca Gascoigne, a glamour mannequin and actuality TV contestant. Along with her thick, false lashes emphasising her wide-set eyes, the cascade of hair makes her appear like a Disney drawing. Laughing, she agrees she likes to appear like “a princess”: “Hair extensions make you are feeling glamorous,” she says, explaining she first began carrying clip-in pretend hair as an adolescent, eager to repeat celebrities resembling Christina Aguilera. Now, she says, everybody she is aware of has them.

I watch as a lady in her 40s with lengthy, streaked, blond hair has some extensions which have fallen out refitted. Skinny strands of hair topped by a “polymer” – a coated metallic ring – are wrapped round tiny clumps of her hair in neat rows, a centimetre or so from her scalp. It is fiddly work, and it is fascinating to look at the stylist gently warmth the bond so it stays put. Would not it weigh her hair down? No, she insists, “you possibly can’t really feel them, you do not even know it is there.” And anyway, she says, “You fall in love with it. You look nice with out even making an attempt.”

Emir says the UK’s ardour for extensions started with Victoria Beckham. “For a very long time it was solely celebrities who knew about hair extensions, however when Posh went from brief to lengthy, everybody realised – and that was it.”

Amongst hairdressers specialising in Afro-Caribbean hair, nevertheless, extensions have been common for 3 a long time or extra, in line with unbiased hairdresser Amanda Biddulph. Black British girls might not go to salons as often as their US counterparts, whose styling habits had been investigated in Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Hair, however within the final decade, demand for further hair has actually taken off. As soon as, extensions had been the protect of ladies of their late 20s to mid-30s, says Biddulph, however now she often sees 14-year-olds with 18-inch extensions, and has refused to place extensions into the hair of ladies as younger as 12. “In the intervening time it is Kim Kardashian for the Afro neighborhood,” she tells me. “They’re carrying center partings and their hair actually lengthy.”

Not even the truth that incorrect removing and overuse of extensions and weaves are linked to traction alopecia – a type of hair loss Naomi Campbell is suspected of getting after footage emerged displaying bald patches in her hair – places folks off.

Gascoigne says she thinks the fact stars from TV present The Solely Manner is Essex, have additionally had a big impact. “I believe it is the ladies from The Solely Manner is Essex which might be driving it, as a result of everybody desires that glamorous way of life.”

Some girls within the public eye might choose to maintain the “assist” they get with their hair secret (Gascoigne says, maybe naively, that individuals cannot inform if she wears them). And after a L’Oreal advert starring Cheryl Cole drew complaints as a result of she was carrying extensions, Emir says a few of her well-known shoppers have made her signal confidentiality agreements. A number of of the consultants I communicate to inform me emphatically that they imagine the Duchess of Cambridge has had extensions – however even when she had, it is unlikely she would focus on it. Actuality present members, nevertheless, haven’t any such qualms, says Riley. “It takes away the embarrassment for younger ladies. They put on it as a badge of delight – I can afford extensions, so I’ve extensions.”

In Liverpool, at hair suppliers Rapunzel Metropolis of Hair, youngsters at school uniform are a standard sight, says proprietor Emma Canty. They purchase clip-in artificial hair extensions, which may promote for as little as £10 a packet. Pretend hair equipment resembling plaited hair bands, in the meantime, are additionally offered in highstreet retailers resembling Topshop. Theresa Yee, magnificence editor at development forecasting firm WGSN, says these fast fixes are “driving the recognition of this development right into a wider market” permitting prospects to “check out a number of ‘non permanent’ seems to be which they’ll obtain at residence”.

model with hair extensions
Large hair … a mannequin makes probably the most of her Balmain hair extensions. {Photograph}: Gilbert Duivesteijn

Artificial hair should still be common, however it can’t be heat-styled, curled or straightened. So for extra everlasting extensions salons depend on human hair. With it comes an array of jargon. There may be Remi hair (all strands face the identical manner and sometimes come from only one particular person’s head); virgin hair (unprocessed); double drawn (all the identical size). The hair will be hooked up with a weave – when strips of additional hair, known as a weft, are sewn into skinny plaits of the client’s personal hair – or hooked up to the client’s personal hair utilizing micro rings, and even glue. However whereas such phrases might journey off the tongue of devoted prospects, few appear within the human beings it got here from. “If I am trustworthy, I do not assume folks care the place it’s from,” admits Riley. “I want to say we’re all ethically minded, but when shoppers need one thing they usually will pay for it, they may have it.” Gascoigne agrees: “I by no means ask the place the hair comes from, I simply find it irresistible a lot. When you’ve gotten massive, bouncy hair you are feeling one million {dollars}.”

But behind the bounce, the revenue, and the rows of neatly packaged hair, is what hair historian Caroline Cox calls the “darkish facet” of the trade. Aside from a handful of companies resembling Bloomsbury Wigs, most hair comes from international locations the place lengthy, pure hair stays a badge of magnificence – however the place the ladies are poor sufficient to think about promoting a treasured asset.

Cox factors out that such exploitation has underpinned the trade since false fronts and hair items grew to become common within the UK in Edwardian occasions. “It is benefiting from those that are deprived,” she says. “Working-class girls’s hair is used to bedeck the top of those that are extra privileged. It has been occurring for a whole bunch of years.”

A lot of the hair on sale comes from small brokers who tour villages in India, China, and japanese Europe, providing poverty-stricken girls small funds to half with their hair. As one importer, based mostly in Ukraine, instructed the New York Instances lately: “They don’t seem to be doing it for enjoyable. Often solely individuals who have non permanent monetary difficulties in depressed areas promote their hair.” Extra worryingly, again in 2006, the Observer reported that in India some husbands had been forcing their wives into promoting their hair, slum youngsters had been being tricked into having their heads shaved in trade for toys, and in a single case a gang stole a lady’s hair, holding her down and reducing it off. When Victoria Beckham mentioned in 2003 that her “extensions come from Russian prisoners, so I’ve bought Russian cell block H on my head”, she might have been joking, however it was not lengthy till the Moscow Centre for Jail Reform admitted it was doable: warders had been forcibly shaving and promoting the hair of prisoners. Because of such horror tales, respected firms attempt to make sure the hair they promote is “moral”. Balmain Hair, Riley explains, has been sourcing hair from China for nearly 50 years, and pays girls the equal of a person’s six-month wage (though she can’t give me a precise determine). Nevertheless, not all firms pay donors. In temples in south India devotees journey for a whole bunch of miles and queue for hours to have their hair tonsured, or ritually shaved. Some have prayed for a kid, others for a sick relative or a superb harvest, and when their prayers are answered they provide up their hair. In accordance with one report, most are rural girls whose hair has typically by no means been dyed, blow-dried, and even reduce and is price round £200. The hair is then sorted and offered, typically by on-line public sale. Final yr Tirumala temple, apparently made 2,000m rupees (greater than £22m), from auctioning hair. Nice Lengths, who promote “temple hair”, level out the hair is donated willingly, they usually have a consultant based mostly in India who buys it straight from the temple, and ensures the cash is funnelled immediately again into the local people to fund “medical help, academic methods and different essential infrastructure initiatives”.

However whereas the ladies who grew the hair is probably not effectively paid, the worth for the shoppers is rising. Biddulph says the price of shopping for hair “has gone by way of the roof” – packets that used to value £10.99 to £20.99 are actually priced at £50 or £60. But, says Biddulph, even in a recession about half of her shoppers’ further hair is one thing they “cannot be with out – they issue it in to their month-to-month bills.” Different stylists I communicate to agree and hyperlink it to the upper grooming requirements and emphasis on bodily perfection which have lately crept in. Kim Hunjan, who runs Belle Hair Extensions in North London, says: “Numerous shoppers speak about botox and cosmetic surgery, they usually see this as comparable.”

In a latest report on the hair trade, IBISWorld famous journeys to salons are seen as important, somewhat than an optionally available further: “Many salon prospects have come to view their spending on hair colouring and styling providers as non-discretionary expenditure inflicting demand for the trade to stay extra resilient than in earlier years.”

Actually, asking how girls can afford the fee could be lacking the purpose. In accordance with Cox extensions, like lengthy pretend nails, are standing symbols. “When you have lengthy nails, there’s a suggestion you’ve gotten lots of leisure time. If hair prices loads to do, and to maintain up, there is similar suggestion. It is virtually as if you’re residing the lifetime of a The Solely Manner is Essex lady or glamour mannequin.”

The truth that it doesn’t essentially appear like your personal hair additionally displays the affect of the intercourse trade on our concepts of what a lady ought to appear like, says Cox. “The style for such a very long time has been concerning the glorification of artificiality. Pretend tans, pretend tooth, pretend boobs and faux nails – and also you want pretend hair to go along with all that. The entire concept of magnificence is [now] predicated on artificiality and eliminating humanness – waxing each hair out of your physique however placing pretend hair in your head.”

Just lately there was a transfer in the direction of a extra demure aesthetic, she says, however one which continues to stress wealth. “Within the latest collection of The Solely Manner is Essex, virtually half of it was set in hairdressing salons, they usually had been all having their hair styled in up-dos.” This exposes roots and permits extensions to be clearly seen. “It is a manner of displaying them off,” says Cox. “In the present day we need to exhibit that our extensions value £800.”

Extensions additionally replicate a retrogressive angle in the direction of girls’s place in society, she says. “When girls attempt to change their position their hair turns into brief and stylish like within the 60s and 20s, however when gender roles turn into extra conventional, pretend hair is available in.”

Nevertheless, financial woes, and the latest rise in grassroots feminism may spell the tip of extensions. “It is starting to look quaint, particularly because the recession continues,” Cox explains. “I believe we’re on the peak of it; within the trend cycle we’re shifting in the direction of a extra pure look.” Biddulph has already seen an increase in salons catering solely to girls who do not chill out, straighten or lengthen their Afro hair. “Extra persons are making an announcement with pure hair and extra salons are opening up. It is a few 70–30, however I believe it will likely be 50–50 quickly.”

But a pure look doesn’t essentially imply the tip of extensions within the mainstream. As an alternative they’re changing into extra discreet – used so as to add quantity somewhat than size. This development displays the truth that older girls are turning to extensions: “Younger folks typically have colored extensions, middle-aged girls do it for the ‘wow’ impact, whereas older girls typically need thicker hair,” says Emir. Riley agrees: “Girls’s hair begins thinning at 35 however they need the gorgeous hair that they had at 20, they usually do it by hair addition.”

No matter sparked our love affair with extensions, it has deepened into one thing extra everlasting. On a wet Thursday I watch as one among Kim’s stylists works on bride-to-be Jessica Munday, who’s having her hair lengthened in time for her marriage ceremony. It is a time-consuming, repetitive and costly course of however Jessica would not care. “Individuals need longer hair immediately. If I prefer it I will positively have it accomplished once more.”

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