The Stream

Does the global hair trade exploit poor women?

As the market for human hair grows exponentially, suppliers are taking advantage of desperate women to meet demand.

On Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 19:30GMT:
Inspired by celebrities and fashion trends, more women are embracing hair extensions and wigs, fueling a booming human hair market. The product hit nearly $1 billion in worldwide sales in 2018, and is forecast to continue surging in the coming decade.

But few consumers stop to think about the source of all that hair. Activists argue that the trade takes advantage of poor women who are essentially selling a body part to meet their basic needs. Amid few government regulations, the supply chain remains deliberately opaque. Currently, the most ethical source of human hair comes from India, where temples sell tresses shorn off during religious rites.

But as demand grows, suppliers are increasingly relying on impoverished women in China, Myanmar, Cambodia and other nations for hair. Many are reluctant to part with their locks, but say they need the few dollars they are paid for food, medicine or schooling.

Their hair is then sold to middlemen, who hire low-paid workers – usually women – for labor-intense processing. This involves combing, washing, conditioning and sometimes dying or styling the hair. The finished products are then sold to salons, which can charge up to thousands of dollars per piece to customers.

As suppliers struggle to keep up with demand, the “dark side” of the hair trade is only expected to get worse. In this episode we ask, does the global hair trade exploit poor women? Join the conversation.


On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:


Erica Ayisi, @Akosua0906


Margot Greer,
Founder of Woven Hair


Valerie Ogoke, ayunehair
Co-founder of Ayune Hair


Read more:
Made in Cambodia: How women in poverty are supplying America’s market for hair – NBC
Black Gold – NZHerald
Human hair: A growing business in China (and Pakistan is taking a cut) – South China Morning Post

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