When we started West label Hair we were horrified to learn where most hair extensions on the market come from. As a person who has worn hair, I felt as if I had been personally apart of creating this sad reality. And I had to do something to change it.
From containment camps, to prisons, cemeteries and sewers
It took us 2 years of daily work to find a secure and ethical trade line with Russian Hair sourced in Russian then produce it ethically in our private factory in China.
As a women owned business supplying products to women who mostly depend on this product, I feel it is my duty to share the reality of what the industry calls "Black Gold”
3 in 5 women wear or have worn hair extensions in western culture. It is a 2.8 Billion dollar industry that is only expected to grow. So the question has to be asked, where does all the hair come from?
I interviewed every hair factory, and I am not kidding. I spent day after day, night after night, month after month doing this. Trying to create and find the best quality and craftsmanship. But what I was most horrified by was the mass inventory and flow of "human hair" coming and going around the world then into consumers hands. "Hundreds of massive factories the size of football fields lined and stacked to the roof with crates of human hair. With busy workers using fork lifts to move them in and out into production."
It was at that moment I realized there is no way this can all be human hair, and if it is. Then it was not sourced fairly.
So where does it come from? Indian temples only provide a small percentage a couple times per year to the market. During busy seasons hair manufactures are known to mix plastic and animal hair into the top producing brands inventory.
An insider source informed me that many supply chains come from prisons in China, and from cemeteries and salon floor clippings to sewer cleaning.
CNN recently published a piece on the Muslim and ethnic containment camps in Xinjiang China. Where some of the Chinese factories supplying thousands of kilograms of hair to the American market are under scrutiny by the United States government, which is alleging the use of forced labor in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang -- where rights groups say up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps since 2016. Beijing has called the camps “vocational training centers” and says the expansion of factory jobs campaigners have linked to the camps is part of a “poverty alleviation” program.
Image curtesy of BBC NEWS
In September, US Customs and Border Protection announced a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on any incoming shipments of hair from the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park in southern Xinjiang. That followed two earlier WROs on companies registered within the same area, including the June seizure of 13 tons of human hair worth $800,000 from Lop County Meixin Hair Products -- which is now subject to a criminal investigation by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- and a previous order in May blocking imports from Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories.
“I look at them and wonder if it is my hair or the hair of my sisters. I am wondering when people wear it, do they ever think about where it is coming from.”
In the containment camps, individuals are forced to shave their heads and work in hair extension factories.
I had long hair, all the way to my hips,” Dawut says. “On the second day, they took me to a separate office, where they had a tray with a machine and scissors, and they cut my hair.
Zumrat Dawut, a Uyghur exile now living in Washington DC, says her hair was cut off in an internment camp in Xinjiang. Credit: Zumrat Dawut
Zumrat says “everyone’s hair was cut short,” which made the female inmates “sad and stressed.” She doesn’t know what happened to the hair, but says her “heart aches” if she sees hair products from Xinjiang China in American stores.
And despite pressure from the US government regarding the use of alleged forced labor, the US is still Xinjiang's fastest growing overall export market, with exports increasing 250% to $26.6 million from April 2019 to April 2020, a study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shows. After chemical and mineral products, hair is the biggest export product from Xinjiang to the US in terms of order volume.
Refinery 29 recently produced a video on the dirty secret of Indian and Chinese hair extensions.
So now we get to Russian hair and our operations. Russia has the highest regulations in the hair trade industry. Women in rural communities use the hair trade to gain economic growth. Providing money that helps the women expand their lives, pay bills and support their families. While we have have placed scrutiny on China we do use have factory in China. This is because the physical infrastructure for manufacture and shipping global products is there and simply doesn’t exist in Canada. We are aspiring to grow and change what fair trade hair means and above all what quality means at every step of the way.
To read more on Russian hair quality HERE
To read the full report from CNN read HERE