Updated: Apr 7, 2019
It's no secret that the world of big hair is big business. The UK hair extension industry is worth between £45m and £60m, according to IBISWorld, and revenue from hair and beauty salons is likely to be around £3.64bn per year, with a high percentage of that coming from the booming hair extension sector. We've never had so much choice in hair extensions. So many methods are on offer; from Tape-Ins to Weaves, Micro Bonds, Nano Bonds, Skin Wefts, Braidless Weaves, Skin Wefts, Cold Fusion, all of which are available in a multitude of colours - including unicorn shades! What a time to be alive, right?
On the surface, business is flourishing and customers are happy, but there lies a darker, seedier, exploitative side to hair extensions that is a world away from the glamour of getting your hair done at your local salon.
Most hair extensions come from small agents who travel Eastern Europe, India and China offering poverty-stricken women payments to part with their hair, which helps give them a form of income for their families.
However, not all companies pay donors. Thousands of women travel for hundreds of miles per day to have their hair cut at temples, making them millions of pounds and the women not a penny. Instead, they donate it for religious reasons.
Emily Barber, industry expert and owner of Emily Jane Hair, explains the situation further:
"Just to clarify from the off, I would never condone any of what I'm about to discuss and always ensure all the products and hair I use are ethically sourced.
The cheaper the hair extensions the lower the quality. The best hair extensions that you can get are pure remy human hair with cuticles intact lying in the same direction. This produces soft and healthy hair extensions that will remain tangle free. So this puts pressure on the industry to find people with long enough hair that they are willing to sellThere are problems. Families and husbands in less economically developed countries are forcing women to have their heads shaved as they see this as a way on generating quick income against their will. Gangs attack women and even slum children in India to steal their hair which ends up being sold for up to £200."
There are highly regulated ethical schemes set up in various countries across the globe which encourage hair donors to come forward and get paid fairly, however the problems persist. Desperate people are often willing to do desperate things.
The trade of hair is by no means a new thing. The term "Black gold" is used when referring to hair. Pound for pound it is worth more than gold! My clients are often shocked when I tell them this.
So what can you do to ensure you're not partaking in these cruel trades? Emily advises,
"The advice I would give anyone who has or wants extensions would be to research the company they are getting the hair from. Make sure that they are ethical, pay their donors and work alongside communities in these areas to make sure their donors are looked after."
If we all take a stand, real change can occur.