Chinese Tresses Going for Hair-Raising Prices

The popularity of natural hair extensions is driving up the price of human hair, but the market surge isn’t trickling down to the base suppliers – poor women in rural China. From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Tetsuya Oura, a 29-year-old executive of a trading company in Osaka that imports such hair, recalled a scene he once saw in a village in rural China.

The village is nestled in a mountainous region about an eight-hour drive from Qingdao, on the Shandong Peninsula. A small, beat-up truck trundled between poor households, blasting out warbling music. Suddenly a girl jumped in front of the truck, shouting, “Stop!” She wore no makeup and looked very young. On her head stood a great mass of black hair, arranged in a shape reminiscent of soft-serve ice cream. Her hair, when undone, almost reached the ground.

The driver got out of the truck and began to cut the girl’s hair with scissors. When he was done, he gave the girl a small amount of money. She was left with a rather masculine-looking hairstyle.

Pop singers Ayumi Hamasaki and other celebrities have spread the hair-extension craze.

Japan imported 178 tons of dyed hair from China in 2007 -– enough to make 3.56 million hair extensions, according to the report. The United Nations reported more than $154 million worth of human hair exported from China and India internationally in 2007.

But demand for human hair comes from sectors outside the beauty industry as well.

The Herald Tribune profiled a Florida City entrepreneur is marketing his product made of human hair to farmers as an alternative to herbicides.

The mats range in size from 25-foot sheets that can be custom-cut for row crops like tomatoes to golfball-sized cubes to tuck around the roots of potted ficus trees.

The product, marketed as SmartGrow, is effective in keeping out weeds, and has even shown signs of increasing yield in crops like tomatoes, according to University of Florida scientists.

Some alternative uses for hair have been less successful. According to BoingBoing, in 2004 Chinese state TV uncovered a scandal involving a soy source company’s disturbing secret ingredient: human hair.

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