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Green Hair is The New Wave: Sustainability within the Global Hair Industry

Second to oil, the fashion and textiles industry is the most polluting industry in the world. This statistic is causing a variety of other industries to look into incorporating more sustainable practices within their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibilities) strategies in effort to reduce the amount of negative impact that these manufacturers have on the environment.

Sustainability within the workforce is a topic that has been receiving a lot of attention in today’s society. Industries including fashion, agriculture, oil and the motor industry among many others have always been in the conversation of sustainability, but there is one industry that continues to evolve each day and has managed to be overlooked, the global hair extension industry.

Usually sustainability is looked at from a “going green perspective” in regards to buying sustainable clothing or driving eco-friendly vehicles, but going green has a whole new meaning when it comes to hair extensions. Unlike most industries, the hair industry hasn’t quite jumped on the sustainable bandwagon just yet. Between the use of chemical manufacturing of synthetic hair and the cleansing/conditioning agents used in the process of prepping human hair, there are several instances where hair extensions are still not considered to be “green”. Luckily, there are various advancements that are taking place to make this all change.

Synthetic hair is produced with the use of manufactured chemicals and materials such as PET plastic (mono-fiber) or PVC (kanekalon). These chemicals and materials release fumes that are toxic and harmful to the environment. As of now, there is no method that allows hair to be manufactured without the use of some kind of chemical or without producing some sort of toxic waste such as air pollution. However, according to cosmobiz.com “it is still hard to say what the true environmental impact of hair extension production is since so much of hair production goes undocumented.” 

Aside from being chemically produced, most hair is produced and sourced unethically. A lot of hair extensions are sourced and produced from poverty-stricken communities in countries such as India, China, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe. “India has long been the world’s biggest exporter of human hair in terms of money, and earns several hundred million dollars a year,” according to First Post

Although there are women in these countries who voluntarily agree to sell their hair for pay in return, there are some women that are forced to donate their hair. Disturbingly, there have been reports of gangs holding women against their will to cut their hair off, as well as incidents of Russian and Eastern European prisoners having their heads shaved, according to The Guardian. Rarely, some companies even go to the extent of sourcing from corpses.

Not only is human hair unethically sourced, but there is also the issue of the waste that it leaves behind after it has been manufactured. The disposal of the hair remains is another issue that companies haven’t quite come to terms with yet. Since human hair isn’t biodegradable, the hair tends to release detrimental chemicals into the environment. The burning of the hair clippings can also cause toxic gases to accumulate producing particles that can be harmful to one’s health.

While still being considered as a premature market, the global hair extension industry is continuing to grow at a steady rate. The business is expected to be worth $5530 Million by 2025 according to ABC-7 News.

Despite the negative effects that come along with the manufacturing of hair extensions, there are some ethical practices that’s companies are trying to incorporate within their practices. Brands are trying to figure out ways to get quality products to consumers in more of an eco-friendly manner.

  A few high-end hair extension brands use the natural acids from fruit to clean human hair. It’s not yet confirmed whether or not this process is done sustainably but, it is a better alternative in terms of causing less damage to the environment. Companies such as Pure Hair Inc. enures that their 100% Remy Human hair is produced ethically from the application process to the packaging and production, no waste is tolerated. The company’s application process doesn’t use heat, glues or waxes so that no toxic fumes are diffused. Pure Hair also encourages their stylist to return the used hair back to them so that they can deliver it to their partner Matter of Trust, who takes the recycled hair and uses it to soak up oil spills.

Although the hair extension market is currently still unregulated and brands are still unclear about their use of ethical sourcing, we as consumers can still take the initiative to only purchase hair from brands that are exercising sustainable practices.

When it comes to human hair, consumers should take into consideration whether or not the hair has been minimally treated with ethical products before purchasing it. The best way to inquire about the treating agents that a brand uses on their hair is to speak with a customer service representative and to ask questions about the extensions. Contacting the company not only allows you to get reliable information, but it also makes the companies aware of consumer’s interest in regards to the manufacturing of the product. When purchasing synthetic hair it is also important to be on the lookout for companies that are seeking out non-toxic hair fibers and are looking to veer away from using fibers that are made with chemicals.

Another issue that should be taken into consideration is the proper way in which consumers should go about disposing the hair remains. A few efficient ways to go about getting rid of the excess hair includes using it as a renewable source for making composite materials such as parcel board, using it as a less damaging natural fertilizer and insect repellant for farming, and as mentioned before, the hair can also be collected to absorb oil spills.

While the hair market has a bit of a ways to go before becoming a fully regulated, documented, sustainable, and ethical industry, it is evident that there are some companies out there that are striving to become more ethical and eco-friendly as part of their social responsibility.

Among many other industries, the global hair industry is making great strides towards learning how to provide consumers with quality product while still keeping the environment safe and healthy for mankind.

 

Teryka Jones

SCAD ATL '19

SCAD Fashion Marketing & Management Major Fashion Journalism Minor Lover of all things Fashion, Beauty, & Pop Culture
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