A universal part of the human body, hair—or lack thereof—is often medium for self-expression. Though the value of a good hair day may vary from person to person, it appears the one is willing to pay an ever-rising amount. The wholesale price of human hair has grown exponentially in the past decade, making its global trade a multimillion dollar industry: at the online marketplace Alibaba.com, searches for human hair extensions in Britain jumped 160 percent in the past year. The demand shift has even lead to chronic theft of weaves—often violent. The New York Times reported salon heists across America earlier this year, with stolen goods worth up to $150,000.
The market’s growth is attributed to women increasingly preferring human over synthetic extensions, especially remy hair from India. Sold with its outermost cuticle layer intact, this particular style is desirable for its easy integration with existing hair (namely, it lasts longer without tangling). But the cost of a package averages $200—with most people requiring at least two packages—and each must be attached by hours of sewing at hair salons, with can cost between hundreds and thousands of dollars.
It’s hard to imagine that the consumers of these progressively luxurious weave treatments aren’t curious about whose head the hair belonged to before theirs. But many seem not to, or at least fail to see the irony of the situation: much of the hair comes from Hindu houses of worship, where women offer their heads to be shaved as an act of surrendering vanity. These tonsuring ceremonies are offered at religious institutions like the Venkateswa Temple, which goes through about 20,000 blades daily and whose hair sales generate income second only to the Vatican.