freemexy: The Real Story Behind Where Your Hair Extensions Come From
The Real Story Behind Where Your Hair Extensions Come From
If you wear hair extensions, chances are you’re pretty picky about what type of hair you wear. You know if you prefer Remy or non-Remy hair, Indian or Brazilian, synthetic or human. You may also believe you can simply look at hair extension packaging to find out its origins. But the truth is, it’s pretty difficult to tell where your hair extensions come from, and there are plenty of manufacturers who are deliberately misleading about where they source their hair from. Hair manufacturers
Riqua Hailes, owner of Just Extensions hair extension bar in Los Angeles and The Weave Express in Washington, D.C., knows this firsthand. After noticing inconsistencies in the hair extensions she received from vendors, Hailes decided to dig deeper. She embarked on a journey through China, Cambodia, Malaysia and India and will continue her travels to Brazil and Russia later this year to uncover the long, storied journey hair extensions take before they reach a salon or retail store. Here is her account.
Separating Fact From Fiction In China
"I started my journey in March 2014. My first stop was China, the largest exporter of human hair in the world. China can reproduce almost anything — and hair is no exception. Chinese hair is often considered cheap in the extensions industry because it isn’t donated hair, so in order to be on the same playing field as other exporters, they will market it as Brazilian or Malaysian hair, which can go for twice the money.
"China imports fallen hair, also referred to as non-Remy hair, from India. Fallen hair is dead hair that naturally sheds and is collected from hair salons and hairbrushes. Because the hair’s quality has been jeopardized and matting is likely to occur, non-Remy hair is less desirable in the extensions industry. But China collects this hair, cleans it and mislabels it as being from a higher-quality hair extension source like Brazil, Russia or India.
"If you’re shopping for extensions, and they say they’re shipped from China, it’s probably Chinese hair masquerading as something else. One hair distributor taught me to pay attention to the smell: Fallen hair has a smell of acid and silicone that’s easily recognizable."
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is dusty, developing and rife with suffering, yet culturally rich and bustling. In this desperately poor country, women sell their bodies, their hair and sometimes their daughters to put food on the table. Even my hotel was a reminder of the desperate circumstances here, with a sign that read, ‘Please do not participate in the sex trade.’ One Cambodian woman told me, ‘I’ll sell my hair before my body to feed my family. My hair grows back.’
"About 45 miles outside the city, I visited a village where women cut hair to be sold as extensions. There were about 80 families with little to no food, clothes or electricity. I saw only one man, and when I asked him to show me his wife, he responded by pointing to a group of women. Women between the ages of 18 and 60 lined up to sell their hair (the women made it very clear they don’t cut the young girls’ hair), receiving 20,000 to 33,000 riel (about $5 to $8) in exchange. Every four to six months, a collector comes to the village to purchase the hair.
"One woman with a short bob cut came up to me said through my translator, ‘I don’t feel pretty with short hair.’ I took off my hat and showed her my short hair. I said through the translator, ‘You’re certainly one of the most beautiful women I’ve met.’