November 10, 2018 05:00:57

Scratch the floor and you will find the flowing locks of Russian prisoners, Hindu pilgrims and victims of blackmail. However the human hair commerce is beginning to change.

When Thien Y arrives to an alleyway in downtown Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, she brings her complete household. Uncles, aunts and cousins crowd the lane, dodging clotheslines and noodle soup stands.

In the meantime, a New Yorker units up store simply inside an open doorway, taking out a set of scales, zip ties, some scissors and ziplock luggage.

Thien Y is without doubt one of the Vietnamese girls supplying Dan Choi’s fair-trade hair firm, Remy New York. She’s an 18-year-old pupil from the countryside in her first yr of college.

“I need to use the cash from promoting my hair for my tuition, hire and meals,” she explains.

Dan pulls up a stool and unties her hair, sending waves of thick, black silk down her again.

The rise of faux hair

Hair like Thien Y’s is in excessive demand, with an ever-growing variety of girls, and more and more males, utilizing hair extensions of their each day lives.

The worldwide hair extension market was value US$2 billion in 2017 ($2.76 billion). It is predicted to hit US$7 billion by 2028.

Ariana Grande has been credited with a surge in gross sales of faux ponytails whereas Nicki Minaj’s floor-length extensions have impressed copycats. Some massive Hollywood names, comparable to Jessica Simpson and Kylie Jenner, have even opened their very own wig and extension strains.

In the meantime, social media influencers are being paid by extension firms to put up “hair transformations” on Instagram.

It is an inexpensive transformation for a lot of, with a full head of extensions costing Australian prospects about $160.

So the place is all this hair coming from?

Dan is on a mission to supply girls a good value for his or her hair and open up financial alternatives for them and their households.

However outdoors of his fair-trade enterprise, issues aren’t so rosy.

The place do your hair extensions come from?

Most hair extension firms hold their provide chains hidden, so the brokers sourcing hair function within the shadows, with little to no regulation.

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Brokers sometimes goal struggling areas the place girls will promote their hair for no matter they will get.

Most hair is sourced in Asia, from girls like Thien Y.

“It is principally processed in China,” says Dan. “The consumers will go to South America, India, Vietnam, purchase the hair, then course of it and make it into no matter.”

In different instances, hair is sourced from Indian Hindu temples, the place feminine pilgrims shave their heads in worship as a part of a non secular ceremony, known as tonsuring. The temples tonsure hundreds of girls a day.

However typically merchants merely take hair, whether or not meaning forcibly shaving it from the heads of Russian prisoners or stealing it in locations as innocuous as buying centres.

“I used to be held down by a gang of males who hacked at my hair,” one younger Indian girl informed The Observer.

“I do know different girls who’ve been blackmailed and threatened to shave their very own heads, in some instances their husbands have acquired cash for his or her hair and ordered their wives to have their heads shaved.”

In Vietnam, brokers typically stroll or journey across the streets, touting their service.

“They purchase hair very very low cost,” says 26-year-old workplace employee, Linh.

“They’re all the time on the transfer. They simply go round calling ‘I am shopping for hair’ like a avenue vendor.”

Hair is more and more being purchased and bought on-line, typically by way of social networking websites. Final yr, Linh bought 40cm of her hair for simply VND 400,000 ($23) to a dealer on Fb.

Fb brokers show little aside from a contact quantity. Ladies should negotiate a value.

“I did not know what was an excellent value as a result of there was no data on-line,” she says. “I acquired my hair minimize at a salon after which I needed to carry it to them at their dwelling.”

Against this, Thien Y will obtain $150 for a similar size of hair.

Hair fraud on a billion-dollar scale

Nearly all of the world’s wigs, wefts and extensions start life as discarded waste product — hair swept from salon flooring, picked from combs and salvaged from plugholes.

“Premium” hair is meant to be totally different — however with no trade oversight and shadowy provide chains, there’s little approach shoppers can know what they’re getting till it is too late.

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Essentially the most coveted grade of hair is “virgin remy” — unprocessed (“virgin”) hair that has been stored in a ponytail (“remy”).

“Remy hair, the place the cuticle layers are all going through the identical course from root to finish, ensures the hair extension behaves precisely like your personal hair,” says a spokesperson for Sydney salon, Christopher Hanna.

However Rob Aubin, chief govt of hair extension vendor Nice Lengths Australia, says it may be onerous to know in the event you’re getting what you paid for.

“To know if hair is remy or not remy, you’ll want to have a scanning electron microscope,” he says. “It is easy for a shopper to be duped.”

Worth would not all the time assure high quality. Many “virgin remy” bundles are actually only a mixture of hair from salon flooring or drains, blended with synthetics and different non-human fibers, says Dan.

Hair extensions sellers are reliant on their brokers for data and most do not know the place the hair originated.

“It is robust to search out somebody who goes on to supply,” says a US-based Etsy vendor.

To cowl themselves, some sellers waive accountability.

As one Australian firm writes, “we don’t warrant that the standard of any merchandise bought by you’ll meet your expectations.”

In Australia, there are not any legal guidelines requiring imported human hair to be licensed or an obligation paid.

“Some nations within the EU require human hair to be fumigated however that does not appear to be true for Australia,” says Dan.

Contained in the hidden hair factories

Dan would not imagine some firms could possibly be paying their workers a good wage whereas promoting extensions as cheaply as they do.

Little is thought in regards to the situations for the employees who course of and bundle the hair, however stories counsel they don’t seem to be receiving a good wage.

Journalists from the New Zealand Herald snuck inside hair factories in Taihe, China and located “gated communities” that odor of “stagnant peroxide”.

“Greater than 1,000 staff are inside — some paid as little as $2 an hour and almost all feminine. They sit on small, picket stools combing the hair by way of nails, soaking it in conditioner and dyeing it in steel barrels.”

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Workers clean the hair for export at Tet Nay Lin Trading Co


Workers clean hair in a factory in Myanmar. Most hair factory workers are not paid a fair wage. (Reuters: Ann Wang)

Simply as few shoppers are capable of distinguish good hair from unhealthy, even fewer are conscious of the realities of the hair trade.

In line with Sydney Salon, Marie-France Group, purchasers do not normally ask how hair was sourced.

“They typically ask whether it is Indian, Russian, remy … they’re normally extra involved with high quality, value, and if it’s the greatest for his or her hair,” says a spokeswoman.

‘I want to change the hair industry’

For Dan, the biggest challenge has been educating his market to understand why his prices are so high.

“I have a very famous Hollywood wig-maker who balked at our prices. She basically said ‘your prices are European prices, you have Asian hair’.”

The price that Dan will pay Thien Y for her hair will double by the time it hits the shelves, to cover fair labour costs and other expenses.

“Each hair piece takes hours to make,” says Dan. “At the minimum we have to sell our hair for $US250 per 100 grams, because we have to factor in US taxes, logistics, a fair wage, etcetera.”

The majority of his profits go to school projects in rural Vietnam.

He aims to take his model to other parts of the developing world, bringing opportunity to communities that would usually be exploited by the industry.

“I want to change the whole dynamic of the hair industry,” he says.

When a stranger wears your hair

All of Thien Y’s hair has been minimize now and is mendacity in shiny black rolls on the scales. Dan weighs it and lifts it fastidiously into ziplock luggage to be taken again to his workshop.

Just a few months from now, will probably be on somebody’s head on the opposite aspect of the world.

She smiles as Dan places the hair in his backpack.

“My hair is essential to me — it is part of me. However I felt comfortable to chop it,” she says.

“I do not really feel prefer it’s unusual if another person wears my hair. My hair is effective, I really feel proud.”


Phrases and pictures by Zoe Osborne

Edited and produced by Annika Blau and Leigh Tonkin








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