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The Human cost of Hair Extensions

February 23, 2010

Well done to ABC’s  Foreign Correspondent for an excellent look at the Temple hair trend.  Hair extensions are a booming business thanks to our obsession with excess and indulgence and while our big-hair aspirations are perfectly sound on the surface,  the behind-the-scenes exploitation that underpins some of the industry is just wrong.

Hair shaving is an important ritual in Hindu society.  Babies first haircut (mundan) is symbolic of cutting ties with the bad traits from a previous life – they are all cut away with the hair!  In addition, many Hindu women only cut their hair as part of a religious ceremony or as a symbolic offering.   It is common for Hindu’s to completely shave their heads at least twice in their lives as part of a thanks-giving ritual to a deity. Shaving the hair is symbolic of freeing ones-self from one’s ego – something that the European hair sellers could do with learning about!

This custom has not gone un noticed and has now formed the business end of a lucrative and fast-growing supply chain.

The cut hair is collected at temples and then on-sold to hair traders who promptly process the tresses ready for export to Europe and America. This holy offering seems to serve only one God on this planet – the god of money and apparently it’s all good.

But is it?

The men, women and children shaving their hair at temples do so on a voluntary basis in order to please the Gods (having not spoken to any of the devotee’s I must trust that these people do act under their own free will).  They expect and desire no payment for the hair. The temple then enters into a business agreement with hair suppliers and sells the bulk hair for whatever they can get I guess.  Is that wrong? Not in principle no.

At this stage in the supply chain the problem that I have is that the ‘middle man’ is able to take advantage of this good will and faith to buy hair (which would otherwise hold little earthly value)  for a low price,  process it using cheap labour and then sell it for a massive profit. Good business YES but is it  Just? Is it right? Is it ethical?

The ABC program pointed out that the temples get paid for the hair and re-invest that money back into the local community. That is excellent but they must only see a small percentage of the profits realized from these innocent donations. I must say that I would feel outraged if I donated blood in order to help out my fellow-man only to find that it get’s used as a special effect in horror movies. Not quite the same thing but not far from the truth!

Going up the supply chain a bit further and we see a further gulf in empathy and responsibility. Again, there is nothing wrong with ceasing an opportunity to make some money, creating good jobs and opportunities along the way and generally facilitating a new way for people to look and feel good. However, I can’t help but feeling a little sick in my stomach when I know that those of us who can afford to choose whether or not to have hair extensions could probably afford to give a little something back to the people who made it all possible – not the importers, the dyers or the processors. The people who grew the stuff!

This is not about poor people in India needing money to feed their families.  These people are not as poor as we are. This is not about token gestures – oh we paid a fair market price for something that would end up in the bin. This is about corporate and social responsibility, about transparency and about honesty.  The men, women and children involved didn’t donate the hair to YOU they donated it to God.  Wouldn’t it be fair to  honor that trust and optimism and dedication by showing these people that heaven really can be found on earth helped along by a big dose of equality a sense of fair play and  a large helping of love for our neighbours.

Hair trade can be fair trade.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Radhika, Sydney permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:23 pm

    Great post! Honest and gratifying to know that someone not of the faith comprehends the meaningful sacrifice that takes place during this ritual. It is quite ironic where the hair actually ends up as over indulgence in hair signifies vanity. The shaving of the head is about letting go of one’s ego, source of vanity etc hence why religious folk despite their magnificent locks will wear their hair in the simplest of styles (braided, knot etc. I like the idea that fair trade principles should be applied to this as well irrespective of the circumstances in which the hair was supplied.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      February 24, 2010 7:35 am

      Dear Radhika,
      Thank you for the feedback. I wrote the story late last night (hence the somewhat dubious English) after watching the ABC program. There is nothing good about exploitation and if we want to live in a fair and just GLOBALIZED society we should start by growing up a bit. I think that the time to sort this out has come! I have faith in the power of individual actions which is why I wanted to write.

  2. cathie permalink
    February 24, 2010 9:43 pm

    there are now a few “ethical” hair extension manufacturers who use hair from Europe, not Indian hair now. I have a feeling that this was covered by the ABC many years ago, and have read an article ages ago in one of the glossies about this, so it seems things haven’t changed very much, but at least there is awareness, and awareness causes change in attitudes!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      February 24, 2010 9:47 pm

      Good to hear. Thanks Cathie!

  3. Jeanie permalink
    April 1, 2010 7:53 am

    I think the point for them shaving their head is that it’s a “sacrifice” … meaning they should not be getting anything in return for it. Or else they would just be selling their hair. The temples are using the money wisely already to give back to communities but of course more would be better.

  4. May 29, 2010 2:20 am

    Life Expectancy of Hair Extensions: Hair Extensions, if applied properly, typically last between 3-6 months which varies on each individual. The growth rate of a person’s hair plays a crucial role in how long the hair extensions last. The quicker your hair grows the sooner you will need to have them removed and reapplied. Certain factors to consider to get the longest life with your hair extensions is to use care when styling, brushing, and flat ironing your hair, wash hair with a clarifying shampoo, and use a moisturizing conditioner.

  5. August 10, 2010 1:10 am

    It’s a good story, but I think it depends where you get your hair from. I am in the business of hair extensions and I only use ethically produced hair. It is twice as much as the other cheaper hair, but the quality is much better.

    • Marie permalink
      June 26, 2012 6:09 am

      I’ve been trying to sell my hair. Reading about the temple hair explains why there doesn’t seem to be a lot of demand. Can you tell me some specific sites or companies that might buy my European hair?
      Thank you

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
        June 26, 2012 11:02 am

        Hi there Marie,
        Unfortunately I am not sure where you can sell your hair but a good hairdresser should be able to point you in the right direction. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

  6. August 15, 2010 3:00 am

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  7. November 17, 2010 4:14 pm

    some hair extensions fit nicely to the your natural hair while others do not fit easily -,*

  8. February 7, 2012 2:17 am

    I like this post, really nice.

  9. October 31, 2013 5:53 pm

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    • November 1, 2013 1:13 am

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  10. March 22, 2016 4:58 pm

    very informative.nice post.Hair extensions are a quick way to look like a gorgeous celebrity.permanent hair extensions sydney


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