The Economics Of Human Hair

August 4, 2012 in Daily Bulletin

In a story that brings together mysticism, the Russian Mafia, Paris Hilton, and Will Smith, Jean Lasker Gottlieb took a look at the human hair market:

  • In 2011 $1.3 million worth of human hair entered the United States.
  • It has become so valuable that in 2011 thieves stole $230,000 worth of it from salons – while ignoring the flat-screen televisions and cash registers.
  • The most valuable hair is virgin hair – never coloured, cut, or processed.
  • The hair is used to fashion authentic looking wigs. Hollywood is a big buyer. Film wigs have to be durable and high quality and can cost as much as $6,000.
  • Paris Hilton was charged $6,000 for her first wig, but after she lost it within a year, the price went up to $10,000.
  • Cornrow wigs are the most difficult to make and it can take three people six days to make one.
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union entrepreneurs went to Russia believing that the people were poor enough to want to exchange their hair for cash. But the Mafia eventually saw how lucrative the market was and wanted a 20% cut.
  • Instead people turned to India where it is tradition for women to grow their hair long. In 2011 66% of imported human hair came from India.
  • At Tirumala Venkateswara 20 million pilgrims a year visit for good luck. Some have their hair shaved, and the Tirumala administration collects it and auctions it. At one of these auctions they made $27 million.
  • But cultural practices are changing in India and people are looking to other countries to renew their supply of human hair. There are few candidates. In Ukraine bunkers full of human hair have to be protected by armed guards.

The entire two page article is fascinating and takes a look at many things including what hair means to us as a society, what it’s like to lose it, the future of the industry, the wigs worn by Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson, the most valuable colour of hair, what the hair looks like when it arrives in boxes, other sources of human hair in India, what Paris Hilton named her wig, how the quality of hair changes as it ages, the importance of being able to tie a knot, the violent thieves that steal hair, and why human hair is like an endangered species. You can find it here.

Source: The Atlantic

Via: Marginal Revolution