What Happens to Your Hair After It’s Cut?

A look into the growing industry making billions in style

Arun Rafi
Arun Rafi
Aug 7, 2019 · 4 min read
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Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

Except for our palms, lips, and soles, five million hair follicles cover the human body. Out of these, a million reside on our head and a tenth of that on our scalp (i.e., 1,00,000 follicles).

We are a lot of hair.

Let’s get to the root of the matter.

The Root Facts


The Business of Hair

Hair is considered one of the most important aspects of personal style. According to reports, the haircare business is estimated to reach a whopping $211.1 billion in 2025.

While personal grooming pushes the industry forward naturally, what fuels its explosive growth are lifestyle-related problems like hair loss, hair thinning, and grey hair.

Components

Haircare is generally represented in categories such as shampoos and conditioners, coloring, hair oils, and styling agents. Logical, right? We use these products every day to keep our hair in great shape.

What about using someone else’s hair? Eew! You say! Well, take a deep breath and step into the fascinating world of hair — after it’s cut.


The World of Wigs & Extensions

It’s all around us. In fact, the global hair wigs and extension market is estimated to hit $10 billion by 2023.

Popular culture

Hair wigs and extensions have always played an important role in popular culture. From the fashion weeks across the world to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago, wigs have made influential characters.

Everyday culture

What raises the hair of these businesses is that they are increasingly being used by people for everyday lives. Domestic demand from Instagram-inspired young millenials is cutting short some quality Hollywood supply.

Vanity culture

A lot of demand, like most of the beauty industry, emanates from the need to conform to the beauty stereotypes built by the mainstream media.

Insecurities imposed by societal norms of beauty result in direct and indirect hair shaming. Many use weaves and extensions to hide their natural hair. Ironically, even those in mainstream media are not exempt from this, as Corallys Ortiz, a meteorologist, found out.

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Where Does it Come From?

Now that we know that hair remains “in business” even after it’s cut, let’s find out where it comes from. While almost all countries repurpose hair, nearly half of the human hair exports originate from India, making it the top exporter.

When it comes to final products, most countries send human hair to China where it’s weaved into wigs and extensions.

Temples

Yes, you heard that right. Human hair contributes to 10% of the annual income (or $25 to $40 million) of the world’s richest temple, Tirupati Balaji. Devotees tonsure their hair voluntarily as a custom. It pleases the deity. It pleases the temple, for sure. Win-win.

The temple shaves nearly 12 million heads annually.

Hairway to Heaven!

Grassroots

Apart from temple hair, a major source of human hair is combed hair. Women in rural areas trade hair in exchange for appliances and clothes. Village entrepreneurs go from home to home, fortnightly, to collect women’s hair.

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Marketing of Hair

Now, you wouldn’t want to wear a wig if you knew it came from a pious offering, would you? The fact that people are wearing someone else’s hair is not a very comfortable thought. Here’s how marketing and branding overcome this fact and create massive value.

Convert uncomfortable to a positive

Long hair, tonsured by a 45-year-old woman at a temple or Natural, Remy hair — which one would you pick? Human hair manufacturers categorize hair into Remy, Non-Remy, and Virgin tags.

This takes out the guilt of obtaining and spins a positive out of it.

Sell lifestyle, not hair

You don’t need longer hair, they say. You need great lengths to take big strides. Hair extensions marketers sell us the luxury of changing our hair when we want. They sell us trendy, sexy, confident, and glam personalities.

The world is a salon

The value-chain of hair is remarkable. While hair changes various hands and sometimes continents, here are the key points:


Coveted Locks

What makes hair special? What makes it lucrative?


Final Thoughts

I wonder how the pious devotee feels about their locks strutting along on the heads of broadway models and movie stars at unbelievable prices. But if anything, the booming hair industry goes to show that human will and ingenuity are fascinating. To convert a dead material into a thriving source of business shows that there’s no end to opportunities if we decide to look hard enough.

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